Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has offered asylum to Sakineh Ashtiani, the mother of two initially sentenced to death by stoning in Iran. Unfortunately, her fate still remains uncertain.
Though Ashtiani apparently will not be stoned, she still faces the death penalty for adultery, of which she says she's innocent. Alexei Barrionuevo of the Times reports that da Silva, who has close ties to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, initially refused to get involved in Ashtiani's case. But then, says an adviser, "He listened to his conscience and was moved by her story." The Guardian quotes da Silva explaining his decision process thus:
I find myself imagining what would happen if one day there was a country in the world that would stone a man because he was cheating. Nothing justifies the state taking someone's life. Only God gives life and only He should take it away.
It's interesting that da Silva had to imagine a man in Ashtiani's situation before he could act, but whatever the case, he's now offered her asylum: on Saturday he said, "If my friendship and affection for the president of Iran matters, and if this woman is causing problems there, we will welcome her here in Brazil." It's not clear whether Iran will accept the offer — one website with ties to the country's Revolutionary Guards said, "The Brazilian president is under the influence of western propaganda … and has interfered in Iran's internal affairs." But Ashtiani's son Sajad says that after da Silva's speech, officials told him his mother's case would be resolved this week: "Their tone was more polite than before. After President Lula's comment, for the first time agencies in Iran reported my mother's stoning case, it shows how important Brazil is for Iran."
Some diplomats think da Silva's offer could be part of a campaign to become the next Secretary General of the UN. Says one, "How can you become secretary general if you haven't shown some inclination on human rights?" But even if his motivations are selfish, it's good to know that caring about human rights has become politically expedient for at least some roles on the international stage. And while giving one woman asylum won't change gender inequalities in the Iranian courts, public outcry over Ashtiani's case is helping to bring these inequalities to light. Hopefully it will also save her life.
Image via CNN.