By now, a number of weeks passed that, on front pages of half world’s newspapers, hold the stage the case of Sakineh Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death in the Persian country for murdering her husband in connivance with her lover.
Reams and reams were written to defend Ms. Ashtiani, whose case has mobilized more or less famous figures – from Ms. Carla Bruni in Sarkozy to football player Francesco Totti. Striking the contrast with the dead silence which enshroud the fate of many other “Sakinehs”, women who have faced or are about to face death penalty in their own countries.
Those women don’t have oriental names, are not Muslim and don’t carry a veil on their heads. Strikingly, that seems sufficient so that millions of “human rights activists” that cry shame for Ms. Ashtiani, take no interest in their cause.
The more striking case is that, very topical, of Teresa Lewis, which has many analogies with Ms. Ashtiani affair. Ms. Lewis, in fact, was sentenced because she favored her husband and stepson’s murders in order to pocket the insurance premiums; effective killers are two men who, for admission of one of them, had deceive her. Teresa Lewis, in fact, have a marked intellectual deficit, proved also by Q.I. tests. However, she will be execute in that hours: governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, didn’t concede the mercy. Emblematically, conservative McDonnell is in front line to defend Ms. Ashtiani; so there’s no surprise that Iranian press is raising Lewis affair, blaming Western media for double standards.
But Teresa Lewis affair is just the tip of an iceberg, that of death penalty in USA – country among the more engaged in pro-Ashtiani movement. When current year began 3.261 prison inmates were in US death rows: six times those of 1968, three time those of 1982. Since 1900 50 women have been executed in the USA: over a third were black or Asiatic, even if their ethnics represents together only 17% of US total population.
Moreover, US history record 364 executions of minors, or persons sentenced for crime committed when minor. In the twentieth century the younger was George Junius Stinney Junior, executed in 1944 at only 14 years old. The 23rd March of that year, two white female children were found murdered in South Carolina: that very day the black kid was arrested, interrogated by white policemen in his defense attorney’s absence, and in an hour induced to confess the crime. The trial took place a month later and lasted two hours in all: the jury took 10 minutes to return a verdict of guilty. Eighty days after the murder, the very young George Junius was put on an electric chair which killed him after 4 minutes of agony. Some thousands kilometers away, US troops (with blacks strictly confine in own battalions lead by white officers) were fighting against Nazi Germany, in what would be glorified a posteriori as an anti-racist crusade by a nation which, nevertheless, at home abolished racial segregation only in 1968.
Since 1976, year when death penalty was reintroduced in the USA after a short suspension imposed by the Supreme Court, 22 are the execution which have affected minor at the crime’s time, and sometimes even at that of execution. The more recent case is that of Leonard Schockley, asphyxiated in a gas chamber in 1959, while he was 17. Also Schokley was black. In 2005 Supreme Court forbade death penalty for crimes committed when minor: so the last one to suffer it has been Scott Hain, executed in 2003.
Ethnic identity of the condemned persons has been underlined regularly because racist problem is often raised by who critics US judiciary system. Afro-American are 12% of population, but since 1976 executions regarded for 34% black people. Trend isn’t bound to reverse: 41% of current US death row’s inmates are blacks. More relevant is the victim’s race, since doesn’t work the objection that, perhaps, blacks commit more crimes than whites. Even if murder’s victims were half whites and half blacks, since 1976 80% of death warrants are made provision for murder of a white person.
Homicide is not the only offense that could be punished by death in the United States of America: are liable to capital punishment also treason, espionage, terrorism, rape, kidnapping, hijacking, drug smuggling and perjury. The last condemned killed for a crime different from murder was 38 years old James Coburn, put on an electric chair in 1964 for robbery. Demarcus Sears, currently detained in Georgia, may soon steal him the not enviable record, lying in wait of execution for aggravated kidnapping.
Those few lines don’t aim to raise the problem of whether death penalty is acceptable or not. On this matter a large debate exists, with conflicting opinions. What disturbs is the difference of interest, judgment and attitude that Italian (and generally Western) public opinion shows in front of similar cases, but regarding different countries. Sakineh Ashtiani affair resembles strongly to that of Teresa Lewis: both helped the respective lover to kill their husbands. Some elements, however, lead to think that the Lewis case should be considered overriding by death penalty’s opponents. In fact, Ms. Lewis is dying those very hours, while Ashtiani case is still being examined by the investigating officers, and there is the possibility that she will be acquitted. It could be added that Ms. Lewis is mentally handicapped, unlike Ms. Ashtiani, and that constitutes a sort of extenuation in many countries’ jurisprudence.
Yet, every or almost every voices have raised only for Ms. Ashtiani. What have determined that difference of treatment, such reversal of logical priorities? Supposedly, mass media behavior. Lewis case have crossed US borders only in the last days, whereas that of Ashtiani has been holding court for weeks. Moreover, either for incompetence or for bad faith, several journalistic inaccuracies were made in telling the Iranian affair.
Still now some reporter maintain that Sakineh Ahstiani would have been “condemned” (in fact, final verdict is still to come) for “adultery” (in fact, for complicity in a murder) to “stoning” (in fact, she’s facing hanging, because since 2002 there is a moratorium in Iran on that particularly brutal and loathsome form of execution). There’s no difficulty in understanding why leading media of NATO countries have given so much emphasis (and distortion) to Ashtiani affair, while with unbelievable coldness they have been silent of Lewis case until a few days before execution. There’s no difficulty in understanding why Western public opinion easily mobilize to defend a condemned in a Muslim country, but ignore her counterpart in a Christian one. Because it is easier to see the straw in someone else’s eye, that admit to have a beam in one’s own.