The hard truth about stoning

2009-06-27 00:00

NEW YORK — An Iranian woman is framed for adultery, then bound, gagged and buried to her waist in dirt before being stoned to death in a bloody and harrowing sequence in a new film in U.S. cinemas this week.

The movie, The Stoning of Soraya M., is a dramatisation based on the bestselling book of the same name by a French-Iranian journalist about a woman’s death in an Iranian village in 1986.

The film opened in U.S. cities yesterday, amid an international furore over protests and bloodshed in Iran over its disputed presidential election. Its director, Cyrus Nowrasteh, said the timing was not planned.

The film aims to give a dramatic condemnation of the practice, which still occurs in countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, Nowrasteh told Reuters.

“This is overdue and it has been too long suppressed as an issue for open discussion,’’ said the U.S.-born director, who is of Iranian descent and spent part of his childhood in Iran. “Fundamentally, this film is about injustice.’’

The film was shot in Jordan and stars exiled Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose character tells a passing journalist the story of her murdered niece, who was framed for infidelity by her divorce-seeking husband.

“Those who say the stoning in this film is graphic should see a real one,’’ Aghdashloo said.

Aghdashloo, who received an Oscar nomination for House of Sand and Fog, called the film effective in “opening people’s eyes to what is going on behind the curtains in certain areas, especially in rural societies in the Islamic world”.

The film is not critical of Islam or of Iran, but rather those who use religion for their own purposes in several countries, Nowrasteh said.

“In a way, this is about those who hijack the religion and use it to their own ends,’’ the director said. In the film, local authorities use Islamic Sharia law to incite villagers to turn against their friend and neighbour.

It also addresses the issue of women’s rights.

“It shows that women are treated as second class citizens, still, in many countries and that needs to change,’’ he said.

Seven women and two men are known to be under sentence of stoning in Iran, but there may be other current cases, Amnesty International said last month.

Afghanistan and Pakistan’s laws also allow stoning for adultery. Last October, Somali Islamists stoned to death a 23-year-old accused of adultery, who was killed while buried in a hole up to her neck in front of hundreds of people in a square of the southern port of Kismayu.

Freidoune Sahebjam, the French-Iranian journalist who published the book the film was based on in 1994, died as filming began, but had approved the project, which is in Farsi with subtitles. — Reuters.

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