Iran stoning woman's threat may be under duress: Berlin

2nd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The threat by an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning to sue two German reporters may have been made under duress, the German foreign ministry said on Sunday.

"The contents of the declarations relayed and the manner in which they were made really raise questions," a spokesman said.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, appeared in front of foreign media and judiciary officials on Saturday and said she had told her son to sue two German reporters who had interviewed him about her case.

"I have a complaint against them," she told Iran-based foreign media at an appearance organised by judiciary officials at a government welfare organisation guesthouse in Tabriz.

The two German journalists from Bild am Sonntag were arrested on October 10 in Tabriz for interviewing Ashtiani's son and family lawyer who were also taken into custody. The son was released last month.

Iran says the two Germans entered the country on tourist visas and failed to obtain the necessary accreditation for journalists from the authorities before "posing as reporters" when they contacted Mohammadi Ashtiani's family.

"Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in Iran for people to be forced to make statements," a German diplomatic source said.

Bild am Sonntag commented that it was "extraordinary" that the woman might lodge a complaint against its journalists.

"We find it extraordinary that a woman, who has been sentenced to death in Iran, might leave her prison for a few hours to tell the western media that she wants to sue the journalists covering this affair," the weekly's deputy editor in chief Michael Backhaus told AFP.

"I think she is under enormous pressure from the Islamic regime and that she is saying this under pressure," Mina Ahadi of the woman's Cologne-based support committee said.

On Sunday, 100 prominent Germans, including business leaders, ministers and top sports stars, urged Tehran to free the two journalists, in an appeal published by Bild am Sonntag weekly.

"The pair must be released and must return to Germany as soon as possible," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

"A state like Iran, which always calls for understanding, must not flout it in other areas," added Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Other signatories included the heads of Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom and BMW, footballer Philipp Lahm, Formula One star and seven-time former world champion Michael Schumacher and Nobel literature laureate Herta Mueller.

Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death by two different courts in Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.

Her sentence to hang for her involvement in the murder of her husband was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.

But a second sentence to death by stoning on charges of adultery levelled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband's murder, was upheld by another appeals court the same year.

But on Sunday, a senior Iranian judiciary official said the sentence could be quashed, adding that some ambiguities remained.

© 2011 AFP

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