According to Norooz, the official website of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), Tajzadeh recently wrote a letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani in which he called for the “recognition of the people’s legal rights” and the abolishion of two of Iran’s most controversial “Islamic” punishments: severing the hand for theft and stoning for adultery.
Tajzadeh is a member of the Central Council of the IIPF as well as the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organisation, Iran’s most prominent reformist parties, which have been outlawed. During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, he was Deputy-Minister of the Interior for Political Affairs. The outspoken political figure was rounded up along with scores of activists and journalists following the disputed 2009 presidential election. He is currently serving a six-year jail term.
“Do you believe that executing such punishments is the will of the majority of Iranians?” Tajzadeh asks Larijani. “Are you prepared to conduct polls on the topic and publish their results? If it is revealed that most Iranians ... are against this sentence, what will you say?”
The letter, which echoes the views of many Islamic intellectuals and clerics opposed to stoning, states that those in favour of stoning were protecting their “authority” at the expense of tainting Islam. Tajzadeh maintains that practices such as stoning and severing the hand were a source of “joy” for the enemies of religion.
The activist said that his interrogators would criticise the reformist camp over its reluctance to make a case for the implementation of such punishments, which are the subject of much heated debate both in Iran and outside the country.
“I would ask them: ‘Did we stage a revolution in order to ... justify such sentences for European public opinion? Why should we not try instead to eradicate theft so as to render severing the hand unnecessary? Why do we not replace [it] with alternative punishments for theft?’”
Tajzadeh’s letter also goes to great lengths to challenge the very religious basis for penalties such as stoning or severing the hand. Regarding stoning, he notes the differing opinions of Islamic scholars, some of whom consider capital punishment something that can only be carried out by an infallible figure (someone who has never sinned), which means that the all such punishments are effectively shelved. He explains that “the Quran does not foresee capital punishment for an adulterer, let alone stoning a criminal.”
“You’re like-minded [friends] believe that: It’s not important what the world, especially Western public opinion, thinks about Islamic penal law. It is against the very principle of Islam. Therefore their opposition to Islamic sentences is unimportant. No matter how much we back down, their criticisms, opposition and protests against us will persist until we have given up on all our religious beliefs.”
“If lapidation is part of Sharia Law and we mustn’t recoil before the West,” Tajzadeh writes, “then why is it that you are deterred from implementing the ‘sacred Sharia Law’ after widespread Western criticism? Why is it that in an interview with ABC in New York, Mr Ahmadinejad made absolutely no attempt to defend stoning? ... Apparently [even] he agrees that such sentences and penalties are at present inhumane and indefensible.”
In an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, Ahmadinejad denied that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 44-year-old Iranian mother sentenced to stoning for adultery and complicity in her husband’s murder, had been ever been sentenced to lapidation. “Miss Mohammadi was never sentenced to stoning. This was false and forged news … there was no sentence of stoning issued in the first place… this was the news that was made up,” he claimed.
Tajzadeh questioned the judiciary chief’s own resolve in executing certain penalties that might be deemed unexpected in society, adding that he found it “remarkable” that neither Larijani nor any leading cleric from the judiciary had ever defended the need to implement such cruel punishments. “Why don’t you request that such punishments be shown on [national] television?” he asked Larijani.
“You and those who think like you are well aware of the negative repercussions of these penalties, yet you do not prevent their execution. This is why you defend it with [a feeling of] embarrassment. But the reason you continue to keep the issue of stoning alive, three decades after the [Islamic] Revolution, is to demonstrate that the Western world, whether it be their public opinion or their governments, are at odds with and hostile towards us because of ‘Islam’.”
Tajzadeh goes on to add: “Is not a cause for shame for us that while the sentence of stoning is mentioned in Torah and not the Quran, the Zionists, who have exploited the religion of Moses ... for their power-seeking ploy, are the ones who accuse Muslims of ‘violence’ and ‘backwardness’ for executing this sentence?”
Tajzadeh argued that sentences such as stoning and severing the hand were either not rooted in the Sharia or were “at least not approved for the modern world,” adding that not even “the most traditional and religious” sectors of Iranian society accepted the carrying out of stoning. He maintained that not only had stoning not reduced crime, but it had actually led to resentment towards Islam.
“Why should such a doubt-arousing punishment be considered part of Sharia,” Tajzadeh asked.
When Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani, a senior clerical figure, was asked about the roots of stoning in Islamic texts in 2010, he replied that it was “not prescribed in the Quran,” stating that the Prophet Muhammad “devised this punishment for married men and women who are in a position to properly satisfy their sexual desires, but commit adultery on a whim.” He went on to add that there were “certain stringent conditions” before this punishment could be imposed.
“Furthermore, there are certain stringent qualifications prescribed in the Sharia for the executors of this punishment. We believe that ordinarily such qualifications are only found in the Infallible Imams. Given this, we are of the view that Islam does not intend this punishment to be established readily.”
Like many fellow activists arrested following the 2009 presidential race, Tajzadeh was paraded in televised show trials held that summer. He received a six-year prison sentence as well as a ten-year ban on journalistic and partisan activities on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security and acts of propaganda against the regime.” Not recognising the legitimacy of the judicial process, he did not appeal the court’s decision.
Tajzdeh’s wife Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, an active member of the IIPF, has also faced arrest and intimidation in the past year. Tajzadeh has been quoted as saying that both their judicial cases are being directly handled by Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
A recent report by the pro-Green Movement website Jaras suggested that around a month ago, Mojtaba Khamenei met with Mousavi and called on the opposition figure to soften his stance regarding the country’s establishment due to the growing international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. The former Prime Minister then reportedly stated that he will only respond to the request on two conditions: “Firstly, I will respond to the leader [Khamenei] on the condition that there are no cameras or eavesdropping and that no one else but I or he is present in the meeting. Secondly, that I am offered the chance to address the people live on national television.”