Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:08 am (KSA) 21:08 pm (GMT)

Iran suspends woman's stoning: Foreign ministry

Ashtiani’s lawyer confirms she was lashed 99 times in a separate punishment
Ashtiani’s lawyer confirms she was lashed 99 times in a separate punishment

Iranian authorities have suspended the sentence of death by stoning for a woman convicted of adultery, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after weeks of condemnation from around the world.

"The verdict regarding the extramarital affairs has stopped and it's being reviewed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran's state-run English-language Press TV.

The statement came a day after European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the sentence "barbaric beyond words", the latest in a string of criticisms by foreign powers.

 The verdict regarding the extramarital affairs has stopped and it's being reviewed 
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of adultery -- a capital crime in the Islamic Republic -- in 2006. She also has been charged with involvement in her husband's murder.

In a live telephone interview, Mehmanparast said the murder charge was "being investigated for the final verdict to be issued".

Reportedly lashed 99 times

 The possibility of stoning still exists, any moment 
Javid Houtan Kian

However Ashtiani’s lawyer said Monday that he and her children are worried the delayed execution could be carried out soon with the end of a moratorium on death sentences for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

With the end of Ramadan this week, the mother of two could be executed "any moment," said her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian.

"The possibility of stoning still exists, any moment," Kian told The Associated Press. "Her stoning sentence was only delayed; it has not been lifted yet."

In an unusual turn in the case, the lawyer also confirmed Ashtiani was lashed 99 times last week in a separate punishment meted out because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her. Under Iran's clerical rule, women must cover their hair in public. The newspaper later apologized for the error.

She was lashed on Thursday, Kian said, citing information from a fellow prisoner who was released last week. Kian has been allowed no direct contact with his client since last month.

"We have no access to Ashtiani, but there is no reason for the released prisoner to lie" about the flogging, he said.

A"personal cause"

Another lawyer who once represented Ashtiani, Mohammad Mostafaei, said in a news conference in Paris that it was not certain if there really had been a new conviction and sentence over the photograph.

"I have contacted my former colleagues at the court who told me nothing was clear on this situation," he said at the news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. "There isn't any punishment for this act in our law."

Kouchner called the stoning sentence "the height of barbarism" and said her case has become a "personal cause" and he was "ready to do anything to save her. If I must go to Tehran to save her, I'll go to Tehran."

Italy is among several countries pressing for Iran to show flexibility in the case. The country's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said the Italian ambassador in Iran met with authorities in Tehran who "confirmed to us that no decision has been made" about the stoning sentence.

"I interpret that in the sense that the stoning, for now, won't take place," Frattini said in an interview on Italian state TV.

The Vatican on Sunday raised the possibility of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save her life as well.

Possible execution by hanging

 It looks like they are playing a political game 

Iranian media have suggested that the stoning sentence -- imposed for certain crimes under sharia law which Iran adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution -- would not be carried out, but that Ashtiani might still be executed by hanging.

"We think that this is a very normal case," Mehmanparast said. "This dossier looks like many other dossiers that exist in other countries."

At no point in the interview, which was in the Farsi language but was dubbed over by a simultaneous translation into English, did he mention "stoning", referring merely to Ashtiani's "death sentence".

Mehmanparast blamed the United States for stirring the furor to hurt Iran's international image as it faces sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

"It looks like they are playing a political game," he said.

According to Amnesty International, Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes. It put to death at least 346 people in 2008.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in Iran.

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