Persepolis: Themes
Death by burning

Death by burning, burning alive, or burning to death is a form of capital punishment where a person is burnt alive. Punishment by burning has a long history for crimes such as treason, heresy, and witchcraft.

According to the Talmud, the “burning" mentioned in the Bible was done by melting lead and pouring it down the convicted person’s throat, causing immediate death.

Another form of death by burning is where the condemned person is tied alive to the stake, which is then lit. This is commonly called burning at the stake.

Death by burning fell into disfavor among governments in the late 18th century; it is now considered cruel and unusual punishment in the USA.

Among the best-known individuals to be executed by burning were Jacques de Molay (1314), Jan Hus (1415), St. Joan of Arc (30 May 1431), Savonarola (1498).

Torture - In Days Gone By

Torture as Capital Punishment:

Stoning, or lapidating

Death by burning, burning alive, or burning to death 




Stoning, or lapidating, causes death by stones being thrown, by a group of people, at a person and is a form of capital punishment. No individual among the group can be identified as the one who kills the subject. Stoning is slower than other forms of execution.

Stoning has been mentioned in Ancient Greece as a form of punishment.

The Koran, the holy book of Islam, forbids all sexual intercourse outside the marital bond and it is considered sinful, and the punishment is flogging for those found guilty. Stoning (rajm) as a punishment for adultery is not mentioned in the Koran, However in the collected sayings of Mohammed, the hadith, stoning is mentioned many times; in the Sunni Sahih Bukhari, stoning is mandated by Mohammed at least 34 times.

Due to this interpretation, in several Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, adultery is punishable by stoning.

Photo: this woman is buried up to her waist in preparation for her stoning to death.

USA and Torture

United States:

Legal Position   

The United States includes protection against self-incrimination in the fifth amendment to its federal constitution, which in turn serves as the basis of the Miranda warning, which law enforcement officers issue to individuals upon their arrest. Additionally, the US Constitution’s eighth amendment forbids the use of “cruel and unusual punishments,” which is widely interpreted as prohibiting torture. Finally, 18 U.S.C. § 2340[36] et seq. define and forbid torture outside the United States.

As the United States Constitution recognizes customary international law, or the law of nations, the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act also provides legal remedies for victims of torture in the United States. Specifically, the status of torturers under the law of the United States, as determined by a famous legal decision in 1980, Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (1980), is that, “the torturer has become, like the pirate and the slave trader before him, hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.”

"Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980) was a landmark case in United States and international law. It set the precedent for United States federal courts to punish non-American citizens for tortious acts committed outside the United States that were in violation of public international law (the law of nations) or any treaties to which the United States is a party. It thus extends the jurisdiction of United States courts to tortious acts committed around the world. The case was decided by a panel of judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit consisting of Judges Feinberg, Kaufman and Kearse.

The Filártiga family contended that on 29 March 1976, their seventeen-year-old son Joelito Filártiga was kidnapped and tortured to death by Américo Norberto Peña Irala. All parties were living in Paraguay at the time, and Peña was the Inspector General of Police in Asunción. Later that same day, police brought Dolly Filártiga (Joelito’s sister) to see the body, which evidenced marks of severe torture. The Filártigas claimed that Joelito was tortured in retaliation for the political activities and beliefs of his father, Dr. Joel Filártiga.

Dr. Filártiga brought murder charges against Peña and the police in Paraguay, but the case went nowhere. Subsequently, the Filártigas’ attorney was arrested, imprisoned, and threatened with death. He was later allegedly disbarred without just cause.

In 1978, Dolly Filártiga and (separately) Américo Peña came to the United States. Dolly applied for political asylum, while Peña stayed under a visitor’s visa. Dolly learned of Peña’s presence and reported it to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who arrested and deported Peña for staying well past the expiration of his visa.

When Peña was taken to the Brooklyn Navy Yard pending deportation, Dolly lodged a civil complaint in U.S. courts, brought forth by the Center for Constitutional Rights,[1] for Joelito’s wrongful death by torture, asking for damages in the amount of USD 10 million. After an initial district court dismissal citing precedents that limited the function of international law to relations between states, on appeal, the circuit ruled that freedom from torture was guaranteed under customary international law.[1] The appellants argued that Peña’s actions had violated wrongful death statutes, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other customary international law. Petitioner claimed the U.S. courts had jurisdiction to hear the case under the Alien Tort Statute, which grants district courts original jurisdiction to hear tort claims brought by an alien that have been “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”[2] This case interpreted that statute to grant jurisdiction over claims for torts committed both within the United States and abroad.

The U.S. courts eventually ruled in favor of the Filártigas, awarding them roughly $10.4 million. Torture was clearly a violation of the law of nations, and the U.S. did have jurisdiction over the case since the claim was lodged when both parties were inside the United States. Additionally, Peña had sought to dismiss the case based on forum non conveniens (saying that Paraguay was a more convenient location for the trial), but did not succeed.


Torture, according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, is:

…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.


—UN Convention Against Torture

Laws against torture:

On December 10, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 5 states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Since that time, a number of other international treaties have been adopted to prevent the use of torture. Two of these are the United Nations Convention Against Torture and for international conflicts the Geneva Conventions III and IV

Although there are many laws and treaties against the use of torture, countries all over the world continue to use various techniques including the United States, Iraq, Iran, Republic of the Union of Myanmar  to name a few.

All religions condemn the use of torture including the Catholic Church and Islam.

The Catholic Church now condemns the use of torture against everyone as it views it as a grave violation of the Commandment “You shall not kill”, but it has in the past used torture against its opponents. The religion of Islam strongly condemns the use of torture against Muslims and the prohibition is explicit in several places in the Qur’an. However, it is still practiced in many Muslim countries.

Laws in the United States condemn and prevent the use of torture; however the government continues to use such tactics to force information from detainees. The government has set up interrogation centers and prisons in different countries with Abu Grehab being the most notorious and famous.


Persepolis is the title of a book by Marjane Satrapi relating to the politcal upheavals in Iran in 1979 and 1980. Satrapi was ten years old at the time. She describes the affect the downfall of the Shah of Iran which was followed by the fundamentalist regime under the Ayatollah Khomeini. How did Satrapi arrive at “Persoepolis” as the title of her book? The book speaks of people being tortured pre and post the revolution.