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Middle East
Iran suspends death by stoning case
Controversial punishment for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani put on hold amid "review" following international outcry.
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2010 19:52 GMT

 The case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has sparked an international outcry[AFP]

Iran has suspended the punishment of death by stoning for a woman convicted of adultery, the country's foreign ministry said.

A spokesman for the ministry said on Wednesday that government officials will review the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery in 2006.

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

Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the murder of her husband the previous year. She had also been sentenced to death following a separate conviction for playing a role in her husband's 2005 murder.

The foreign ministry said on Wednesday that her sentencing for "complicity in murder" is still in process.

"Defending a person on trial for murder should not be turned into a human rights matter," Mehmanparast said.

But Ashtiani's lawyer, Houtan Javid Kian, said she was never formally put on trial on the charge of being an accomplice to murder and was not allowed to mount a defence.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Potkin Azar-mehr, an Iranian blogger in London who has been in touch with the lawyers involved in this case, said: "I do not think that [the review] is a new step because all that [the foreign ministry] is saying is that the case is going to be reviewed.

"The review doesn’t mean that it is going to be revoked... If they say it is being suspended, how long is it suspended for? Is it suspended until the end of Ramadan, is it suspended until the end of the year?

"[Iran] has made such a bad PR [public relations move] of this that I do not think the public opinion will lay at rest until the actual sentence of stoning is removed from Iran's penal code."

International outrage

The case of Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, has provoked international outrage and has further strained relations between Iran and the West.

The international crossfire over Iran's stoning sentence intensified on Tuesday, after Jose Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, said he was "appalled" by the news of the sentence.

"Barbaric beyond words," he said during his first state of the union address in Strasbourg, France.

Amnesty International also called on Iran to abolish what it called a "horrific practice, designed to increase the suffering" of those condemned.

Stoning is the penalty for crimes such as adultery under Iranian law.

But Amnesty said a disproportionate number of those sentenced to death by stoning were women because they were not treated equally before the law and were particularly vulnerable to unfair trials.

Iranian authorities routinely defend their legal codes and human rights standards as fully developed and in keeping with the country's traditions and values. They have widely ignored Western denunciations over the crackdowns.

Ashtiani's lawyer said he regards the next critical period coming next week. The moratorium on death sentences during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will end, and he said he worries that an execution could be then carried out "any moment".

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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