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Stoning fate averted, but status uncertain

Sat., July 10, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon – After a spirited international campaign joined by Western politicians and celebrities, the Iranian government apparently will not stone a woman accused of adultery. But human rights activists and her lawyer still worried Friday that she could be executed by other means.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, has been imprisoned in the city of Tabriz, Iran, since 2006 on charges of having sex outside of marriage, considered a serious offense under Islamic law. She was convicted of the charge, though her husband had been slain before the alleged affair, and received a public flogging.

Human rights activists and Ashtiani’s family say that during the later trial of two men for her husband’s murder, another court found her guilty of committing adultery with the suspects before her husband’s death, though it cited no evidence, and sentenced her to death.

On Thursday, Iran’s embassy in London issued a news release announcing that Ashtiani would not be stoned to death, a gruesome process in which a person is buried up to their neck or chest and then pelted with medium-size rocks until they slowly die. However, Iranian officials have yet to clarify what fate awaits her.

“The communique is not enough,” said Mohammad Mostafai, Ashtiani’s lawyer, who has been blogging on his client’s behalf for weeks.

“It’s ambiguous,” he said in a telephone interview from the Iranian capital. “It does not say if the sentence has been turned into another sentence. It does not say if she is going to be free. It does not say what will happen to her next.”

The embassy in Britain described word of the impending stoning as “false news” and said that “according to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment.”


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