The stoning of Soraya M


When French-Iranian journalist Fereydoune Sahebjam published his 1990 book ‘La femme lapidée, it became a bestseller. It brought attention to the executing of stoning, as well as the lack of women’s rights in Iran. Despite official denials, stoning at an unknown number of people, namely women, continue in many countries.
This above text message is mentioned in the movie ‘The stoning of Soraya M’. A movie based on this book and a true story.

Approximately twelve years ago I saw the on-line picture here under:


I didn’t quite grasp the gravity then. Now I do.
Especially after I saw the movie ‘the Stoning of Soraya M’.

The start of the movie
A journalist strands in a small village somewhere in Iran. His car needs fixing. The repairman doesn’t want to work that day. He says he’s tired. The journalist wants to continue on his trip and offers the repairman a bunch of money so he will work on the car that day. To kill time until his car’s fixed, he’s looking for a place to get a drink. On his way, a middle-aged woman suddenly appears. She tries to tell him something, but before he can respond they get interrupted by two men. One of them is a mullah, an Islamic religious person. They shoo the woman off and then try to get the journalist to go with them, under the guise of offering tea. He refuses. Shortly after, he sits on a terrace, minding his own business.

In the alley below the terrace the woman reappears, trying to attract his attention. She throws a note up in the air and it ends up on the ground near his table. She leaves. He picks it up. In the note there’s a small human bone. On the note a simple drawn map.
Finally his interest is peaked. He follows the route on the small map. It leads to a house. He knocks on the door and the woman answers. She lets him in. At first he has no desire whatsoever for a meeting with her and what she wants to share with him. After all, the men in the village had said to him she was nuts. She responds by saying: ‘First listen to what I have to say. Then you can decide who’s nuts here. Me or those men.’

She wants him to record her story. Only then she starts telling.

The woman’s story
She had a cousin. Soraya, married to the man in the company of the Mullah. Her husband wanted to divorce her to marry another woman, he was intended on marrying. He wanted to dispatch Soraya almost empty-handed with the small house she lived in with her children and with a very dry piece of small land. It was hardly worth the effort of growing vegetables and fruit there. His sons he would take with him. She could keep the daughters. Soraya refuses. Without a monetary settlement she and her daughters will starve to death.

The mullah pays a visit.
He tries to reason with Soraya and offers her a sigheh.
The woman, her aunt, overhears the conversation and intervenes angrily. Her cousin won’t become a legalized whore! Insulted, she throws the Mullah out of the house.
It stirs ill-feeling within the Mullah.

Soraya’s husband and the Mullah make a pact against Soraya, both for their own reasons. They ask Soraya to help out the repairman, now he has become a widower recently. To prevent he has to marry some other woman immediately, because the men in this village apparently can’t take care of themselves, Soraya will cook the food and do the house chores in exchange for money. Soraya thinks she can save money for support of her and her children this way. Soraya’s husband and the Mullah have other plans. They’ll use the arrangement against her and it becomes her downfall.

It doesn’t take long before Soraya’s husband accuses her of indecent sexual behaviour.
To sentence a women for this crime, you need witnesses. In the movie only two are needed.
The punishment for this ‘crime’ is stoning until you’re dead.
It comes in handy for him and he’s elated. Finally he has something to use against her and be rid of her.

In public he makes a big fuss for everyone to hear, pretending his feelings are deeply hurt and his honour impaired, because Soraya allegedly cheated on him. He beats her up.
The next step is to convince the repairman to accuse her as well. He then will be the second witness. The repairman doesn’t want to coöperate. Soraya didn’t do anything wrong! She’s a righteous woman.
They blackmail him. They threaten to make sure he’ll be put to death as well, if he doesn’t do what they want. What will become of his young son then? The repairman buckles under.
Following, the important men in the village come together to decide her fate.
Soraya’s fate’s sealed. One hour later, they come to pick her up. Her stoning starts.

The stoning scene and aftermath
In the movie you will see how this part plays out. It’s horribly graphic to watch and it will make an impact. They keep throwing stones at Soraya until she succumbs, turned into one bloody pulp. To make matters worse, the women, forced to deal with her death body, aren’t allowed to bury her. They bring Soraya to the river on a barrow and lay her beside it on the ground. That same night her body gets gnawed by wild animals, until there’s no more left than bones.
The following morning, Soraya’s aunt comes back to bury those. She promised Soraya the world would hear about her and what happened, so she keeps one small bone as proof.
The journalist came at the right moment.

He can help spread the word, but it’s not easy for him to leave the village with the proof. The men are on to him. They stop him from leaving and they take away his tape recorder and other writer’s equipment.He seems angry and defeated, while he steps in his car to drive away.
Further down the road, the woman is waiting. She has the tape with the told story and she gives it to him when he stops beside her. Suspense is building when the journalist fails to start his car.
The repairman, in the vicinity, gets weak at the knees, mumbling instructions how to start the car the right way.
He succeeds just in time. The woman throws up her arms in the air, screaming something to the village men, feeling happy she could keep her promise to Soraya.

The reality
In a mountain village in Kuhpayeh, almost 28 years ago, Soraya M got stoned to death on August 15, 1986. She isn’t a made up person in the movie. She was a real person. The M stands for Manutcheri and she became an inconvenient wife. Stoning was the method to get rid of her.
You might think, well, that was long ago, things must have changed by now. It’s 2014!
Unfortunately, no. It still happens. The most recent article I found:

Women being stoned around the world published in October 2013.
Do you think things have changed totally within a year?
Probably not, and neither do I.

Further references


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