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10/30/04 - DEATH THREAT TO IRANIAN GIRL - 2004-11-01

Reports that Iranian judicial authorities recently sentenced a thirteen-year-old girl to death by stoning have caused outrage around the world. According to news accounts, Zhila Izadi is from the northwestern Iranian city of Marivan. She was impregnated by her fifteen-year-old brother and gave birth in prison. She was condemned to death by a local judge. Her brother Bakhtiyar was sentenced to prison.

The U.S. strongly condemns the Iranian judiciary's treatment of Zhila Izadi and calls for her immediate release.

The story broke two months after Iran's clerical regime hanged sixteen-year-old Ateqeh Rajabi in the northern town of Neka because she had committed what authorities claimed were "acts incompatible with chastity." There have also been reports of new arrests by Iran's clerical rulers of dissident journalists and students, as well as of women deemed not sufficiently "Islamic" in their dress.

The international outcry over Iran's plan to kill yet another teenage girl seems to have had an effect. The Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA, quoted an "informed judiciary source" saying that the "convict as well as another defendant in the case" had been handed over to local authorities to serve a prison sentence. IRNA said that "under Islamic Sharia law, introduced into Iran's penal code since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, extramarital sex carries death sentence by stoning, but officials have reportedly given their nod to replace it with alternative punishments."

Advocates for Zhila Izadi point to the precariousness of her situation. She has no legal representation and no recourse to appeal the verdict against her. Iranian officials who are not publicly accountable could easily approve carrying out the sentence of death by stoning when she reaches eighteen -- or at any other time.

President George W. Bush says that human dignity requires rights that are, as he put it, "non-negotiable." They include the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, and respect for women:

"In the end, the rights of women and all human beings can be assured only within the framework of freedom and democracy. . . . Human rights are defined by a constitution; they're defended by an impartial rule of law; they're secured in a pluralistic society. . . . America stands with the world's oppressed peoples. We've got to speak clearly for freedom, and we will."

"If justice is the goal, democracy is the answer," says Mr. Bush. And the U.S., he says, "pledges to promote democracy around the globe and to help those who struggle to see the…light of liberty."