Hearts of stone

15/5/10; A mud-walled village in Iran. Soraya, a 35-year-old mother of seven, is falsely accused of adultery by her violent husband, who wants to be rid of her to marry a 4-year-old girl. He blackmails the local mullah, who sentences Soraya to death by stoning under Sharia law. The crowd cries “Allahu akbar [God is great!]” as Soraya’s two young sons are invited to hurl the first stones. It takes Soraya an agonising three hours to die. The next day an Iranian-French journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, stops in the village to get his car fixed and is told the horrific story by Soraya’s fearless aunt, Zahra. He makes a narrow escape from the village and goes on to write a book in honour of Soraya that will become an international bestseller in 1994, opening the eyes of the West for the first time to the barbaric practice of stoning in some Islamic countries.

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Tragically, it’s still happening. In countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria and Afghanistan, it’s conservatively estimated that at least moo women have been stoned to death since The Stoning of Soraya M was published. All of which makes the film of the same name, to be released nationally in Australia on May 27, all the more powerful and relevant. Starring Academy award¬†nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo as Zahra and Mozhan Marne) (above) as Soraya, this gripping, remarkable film wraps you up in its moral force. It brings into sharp relief how it’s typically only the female member of an accused couple who is sentenced to stoning and how “adultery” can simply mean holding another man’s hand or smiling at him. This may not be the easiest film to watch in 2010 but it’s possibly the most important.
While Iran claims to have issued a moratorium on stoning eight years ago Amnesty International insists it’s still happening, with authorities turning a blind eye to the practice.
In 2008, a 13-year-old Somali girl was stoned by 5o men in front of a crowd of moo for the crime of having been gang-raped. The young girl begged “don’t kill me”, “don’t kill me” before being buried in a hole up to her neck, according to a BBC reporter.
Last year, in the conservative Muslim province of Aceh in Indonesia, a raft of Sharia-inspired punishments was introduced including possible death by stoning for adultery, although none has been carried out to date.
The Koran makes no mention of stoning (nor, for that matter, does it insist on women covering their faces), but it has become part of Sharia law in some Islamic countries.