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Stoning sentence for Pakistan woman Friday, 19 April, 2002, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK The case could go all the way to the Supreme Court

By Susannah Price BBC correspondent in Islamabad

Human rights groups in Pakistan have expressed deep concern about a woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

A district court in the town of Kohat in western Pakistan passed the sentence under Islamic Sharia law after police said the woman had confessed.

There have been only a few cases where women have been sentenced to death for adultery and no one has actually been executed.

The woman, Zafran Bibi, went to the police two years ago to register a case of rape against her brother-in-law, but police later charged her and the man of having an adulterous affair.

Police then said she admitted to having an affair with her brother-in-law, who made her pregnant, and it was on the basis of this reported confession that she was found guilty.


The case was heard under Sharia, or Islamic law, in the conservative town of Kohat in the North-West Frontier province.

The accused woman has seven days to appeal against her conviction in the federal Sharia court and can then go to the Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said they could only hope there would be a limit to such inhumanity.

The spokesman added it was very sad to hear the sentence had been passed.

The Islamic laws were introduced during the 1980s and are widely seen as working against women's rights.

This is not the first time a woman who has brought an accusation of rape has ended up being found guilty of adultery herself.

There have been a few cases in the past few decades when women have been sentenced to be stoned to death in this manner but none has been carried out.

Bahrain votes in landmark poll Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK

About 10% of all Bahrain's candidates are women

By Julia Wheeler BBC Gulf correspondent

Large numbers of people are turning out to vote in Bahrain in the first elections for almost three decades.

The local polls are seen as the initial step in new moves towards democracy being ushered in rapidly by the country's king.

They also mark the first time women have been able to take part in the electoral process as candidates and voters.

The atmosphere on the island is one of excitement and happiness. People are recognising that elections to local councils with only limited powers are the start of something far larger.

'Dress rehearsal'

Old and young, in wheelchairs, on crutches, bringing children in their arms - the women of Bahrain have been voting in large numbers.

At some polling stations, observers say it seems there are more women than men casting votes, and 10% of the 300 or so candidates are female.

There is a feeling among some that the elections are almost a dress rehearsal for parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Both King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa and members of opposition groups have urged people to use their right to vote.

The king has said if they do not, they could risk losing that right.

Such is the level of excitement that officials have suggested turnout could run to 70%.

Interest in the region

Other Gulf countries are looking on carefully and with interest.

King Hamad is reportedly careful to stress he is not leading the way in the Gulf, but is doing what is right for Bahrainis and their country.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's close and powerful neighbour, has expressed hope that the island's people will fulfil their aspirations.

There is no suggestion it will be offering the same opportunity to its people any time soon.

Nevertheless, unofficially, at least one senior Bahraini believes other countries in the region will have to follow these moves towards democracy.

Bahrain women fail in landmark poll Friday, 10 May, 2002, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK

Many Bahrainis see the polls as the start of larger reforms

By Julia Wheeler BBC Gulf correspondent

Women have failed to win a single seat in elections in Bahrain, despite being allowed to vote and stand as candidates for the first time.

Women made up 10% of the 300 or so candidates standing in the local polls, but none has been selected by the electorate.

Many of the women were not expecting to win a council seat but said they had stood to set an example and to make it easier for other women in the future.

This was the first election in Bahrain for almost three decades, and is being seen as the start of significant change in the government of this Gulf island.

High turnout

After the excitement of polling, many in Bahrain and across the Gulf will be saddened to learn that none of the 30 women who took part in elections will be taking office.

About two-thirds of the 50 seats on local councils have now been declared.

The remaining seats will be decided in run-off votes next Thursday after candidates failed to get an outright majority of 51% of the votes.

The government is to appoint the heads of the five new local councils, which will have responsibility for roads, public works and improving the facilities in their areas.

Turnout had been expected to be high at about 70%, but the information minister has reportedly suggested it was about 50%.

Dress rehearsal

Most people in Bahrain see this election as just making a start on the democratic changes that have been promised to them by their king, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa.

He has scheduled parliamentary elections for October this year, when women will be allowed to stand and vote in national elections for the first time.

Analysts say it is in the national assembly that the real power lies.

Many believe the local polls have been simply a dress rehearsal for the full performance in October.

Monday, 29 April, 2002, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK Iran journalist jailed for 23 months

A boy sells reformist newspapers in Tehran


By Sadeq Saba BBC Regional Analyst



A prominent reformist journalist in Iran has been sentenced to 23 months in jail on charges including spreading propaganda against the state and insulting officials.

The journalist, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, was first detained about two years ago and spent seven months in prison before being released on bail.

His conviction comes at a time when it had appeared that the hardliners in the Iranian leadership were adopting a new policy of tolerating dissidents in the face of increasing pressure from the United States.

In the past few months, hardline courts in Iran have uncharacteristically released liberal dissidents from jails, rather than putting more of them behind bars.

Sixty or so opposition figures have been freed after spending months in solitary confinement on charges of plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime.

And a prominent liberal opposition leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, has returned home from abroad without being detained - although an arrest warrant had earlier been issued.

Reformists have been so encouraged by these developments that some have suggested that a new rationality may be prevailing among the hardliners.

But the heavy sentence against Mr Zeid-Abadi on charges of propaganda against the state is disturbing news for the optimists in the country.

Individual case?

It is too early to make any judgement about the motive behind this move.

This could still be an individual case since the authorities are particularly unhappy about Mr Zeid-Abadi's recent outspoken condemnation of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Or the appeals court may yet take a more lenient approach towards him.

It is also interesting to see whether other journalists and liberal figures who are awaiting their sentences will be given similar heavy punishments.

Some observers also suggest that the ruling against Mr Zeid-Abadi may signify that there are divisions among the Iranian conservatives and that some extremist groups are intent on continuing the offensive against the reform movement in the country.

Iran suspends two reformist papers Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK

A boy sells reformist newspapers in Tehran

By Sadeq Saba BBC regional analyst

The conservative-controlled judiciary in Iran has temporarily banned an important reformist newspaper, Iran, which is owned by the country's official news agency, IRNA.

The managing editor of the paper, Abdol-Rasoul Vesal, said the ban followed more than 90 complaints against it.

The judiciary also banned another newspaper, Bonyan.

It is believed that the main reason for suspending the newspaper Iran is the publication of an article last week, which suggested that Islam's Prophet Mohammad enjoyed listening to women sing and play music.

The article caused an uproar among Iran's conservative establishment.

Religious students staged demonstrations against the paper, saying that it insulted Prophet Mohammad.

Bad news for reformists

Women have been banned from singing before a male audience since the Iranian revolution two decades ago.

This is the first time that the conservative judiciary has closed a paper directly owned by the pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami.

Iran has a wide circulation and it has been regularly criticised by hardliners for supporting the reform movement in the country.

The closure of another influential liberal paper, Bonyan, is bad news for some optimistic reformers in Iran who recently announced that the country's conservative faction was adopting a more tolerant attitude towards its rivals.