An Open Letter to CNN Regarding Their Recent Coverage of the Ashtiani Case
(feedback form here to add your comments and demands for retraction and apology)
9 September 2010
There is currently an attempt by the Islamic Republic to recast Sakineh Ashtiani’s execution sentence as a punishment for both murder and adultery. Her stoning sentence was issued on her conviction for adultery, a non-crime and a charge she denies. She had, several years ago, been tried for the murder of her husband but was found not guilty. Another man was found guilty for her husband’s murder, but was forgiven by Sakineh’s children and is free as a result.
Because of the unprecedented international pressure the regime has come under to stop the execution of Ms. Ashtiani on the charge of adultery, the Islamic Republic regime has decided to illegally re-open the closed case of her husband’s murder, “review” it, and argue to the world that Ashtiani should be executed not only for adultery, but also for murder.
The Islamic Republic is disseminating this message through a wide variety of sources, including the Western mass media.
Unfortunately, we note that today’s offering from CNN provides considerable evidence of the regime’s efforts to propagate its version of events in the Western mass media. I refer to the following: Son seeks proof Iranian stoning case ‘on hold’
There are numerous errors throughout this piece which, when taken as a whole, reflect in full the new orientation that the Islamic Republic would like world public opinion to adopt. This kind of journalism is highly irresponsible, and we demand a retraction of this piece and a public apology to Sakineh Ashtiani, her family, and your readership.
We list below the errors in your article, in the order in which they appear in the article:
1. CNN out of Tehran writes: “The son of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning said he wants proof that his mother’s adultery and murder case has been put “on hold.””
This is not accurate. Sakineh’s son, Sajjad, has demanded “an official and legal document on stopping the stoning sentence and execution.” Neither Sajjad, Sakineh, her lawyer Houtan Kian, nor anyone else familiar with the facts of this case accept that there exists a murder case against Sakineh Ashtiani. There is not. Ms. Ashtiani, in an entirely separate case that has long been closed, was tried and acquitted – not forgiven – for her husband’s murder. The distinction between acquittal and forgiveness, which is also raised in your article, will be addressed below.
2. CNN out of Tehran writes: “While Mehmanparast’s statement did not differ greatly from previous, sometimes contradictory reports from the Iranian government about the fate of the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, it did indicate continued attention to the murder aspect of her case.”
Again, this is not accurate. There is no “murder aspect” to Sakineh’s execution case. Yet CNN reports as if there were relevant murder charges that are still open. There are not. Unless CNN accepts and wishes to propagate as acceptable the regime’s act of re-opening a closed murder file for which Ashtiani has already been acquitted and for which someone else was found guilty. This is not acceptable journalism by any standard and directly serves the propaganda needs of the Islamic Republic by continually insisting that a years-old, closed murder case has anything to do with the charge on which the regime handed down Ashtiani’s execution sentence, which was “adultery.”
3. CNN out of Tehran writes: “There have been conflicting reports about the murder charge, which relates to the death of Ashtiani’s husband. Ashtiani’s previous lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, said last month his client had been sentenced to death for the crime but that the sentence was commuted because the victim’s family forgave her. Ashtiani, however, told the British newspaper The Guardian last month that she was acquitted of the murder in 2006. Ashtiani, who spoke to the newspaper through an intermediary, said the man who actually killed her husband was identified and imprisoned for the crime.”
First of all, Mr. Mostafaei was never involved in the murder case. Second, it should be clear to all by now that Mostafaei, after his July 24 flight from Iran, is not a reliable source, likely due to pressure he is under from the regime. Since his flight, Mostafaei has unfortunately and for whatever reason made numerous documented attempts to undermine the campaign to save Sakineh Ashtiani’s life. The statement from Mostafaei that you refer to, about commutation of the sentence because of forgiveness from her deceased husband’s family, appears only in a CNN article published August 12 (post-flight from Iran). CNN has deleted the original article and left a shorter version in its place. However, other sites copied the CNN article from Thursday August 12 and reposted it on their own sites, as we have done here, where Mostafaei’s incorrect statement has been highlighted in red.
CNN’s article pits the testimony of the well-known Mostafaei regarding the outcome of Sakineh’s murder trial against some unnamed “intermediary” speaking on behalf of Sakineh and claiming she had been acquitted. In fact, Mostafaei himself issued a statement testifying that Sakineh had been acquitted of her husband’s murder. This statement is covered in a July 22 article in the Guardian – just prior to Mostafaei’s flight from Iran. That article is still available with the full and original text online at the Guardian.
Thus we can document that the only “conflict” in the reports about the resolution of the murder charges against Sakineh originate with the compromised source that you quote, Mohammad Mostafaei. All other sources, including Ashtiani’s son Sajjad, from the beginning of the campaign until now, have always specified that Sakineh Ashtiani was acquitted of murder, not “forgiven” for it.
4. CNN out of Tehran writes: “Defending a person on trial for murder should not be turned into a human rights matter,” Mehmanparast said.
Again, CNN uncritically quotes Mehmanparast, a spokesperson for a criminal regime, giving him full credence as an unprejudiced source of information, when it is clear and in the public record that Sakineh Ashtiani is not on trial for murder. The charge on which her stoning execution sentence was handed down was adultery. CNN, by uncritically propagating the Islamic Republic’s fabrications, participates in the regime’s falsehoods.
5. CNN out of Tehran writes: “Ashtiani gave an interview to state-run TV last month in which she said she knew about a plot to kill her husband but that she had not taken it seriously at the time.”
As the world well knows, Sakineh Ashtiani did not “give an interview” to state-run TV last month. It is well-documented and in the record that Sakineh Ashtiani was tortured into making a forced televised confession, equivalent to show trials of post-election protesters that went on in Tehran over the past year. Show trials, in which political prisoners are forced to confess to crimes that they did not commit for the purpose of inspiring fear and humiliation throughout the population, are emphatically not “interviews.” For CNN to report Ms. Ashtiani’s forced televised confession as her “giving an interview” is a pure outrage.
6. CNN out of Tehran also publishes the transcript of Sakineh’s forced “confession” uncritically as if it were fact.
It is clearly and fundamentally unacceptable to publish the words that the regime forced Ms. Ashtiani to speak as if they were her own. And yet this CNN article only adds at the end of the passage that “the human rights group Amnesty International criticized the interview, saying Ashtiani may have been coerced.” Let’s be clear: there is no “may have been” about what Ms. Ashtiani was forced to do in that interview. Sakineh’s lawyer Houtan Kian has testified that she was tortured prior to this forced confession. This testimony was widely covered by the media and is thus well-known. When CNN downplays the coerced nature of this confession, it validates the words that the regime forced Sakineh to speak that terrible day. This is wholly unacceptable and unethical.
The regime wants the world to believe that Sakineh is a murderer so that they can execute her without protest. CNN, by uncritically accepting the regime’s attempts to somehow “add” an additional charge of murder to Ms. Ashtiani’s adultery case, validates the regime’s propaganda and paves the way to an inevitable execution of Ms. Ashtiani.
Please be clear: There is no murder case against Ms. Ashtiani. Ms. Ashtiani’s execution is predicated on the charge of “adultery” and nothing else. That fact is well-known and has long been in the record. CNN must stop aiding the regime in disseminating its obviously and documentably false propaganda.
The Islamic Republic must not be allowed to use Western media outlets, including CNN, to revise the facts of Ms. Ashtiani’s case to suit their need to kill Sakineh Ashtiani. Media outlets that disseminate without question the regime’s propaganda will be held publicly accountable for complicity with the Islamic regime.
We anticipate the retraction of that damaging article as well as your apology to Ms. Ashtiani and her family.
Mission Free Iran
Member of the Campaign to Save Sakineh Ashtiani