Stoning of Iran woman could be quashed: judiciary

2nd January 2011, Comments 0 comments

An Iranian mother's sentence of death by stoning could be quashed, a senior judiciary official said on Sunday, pointing out that ambiguities remained in her case.

The head of East Azerbaijan's judiciary said "anything is possible," asked by Fars news agency whether Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's sentence for adultery could be overturned.

Malek Ajdar Sharifi's remark came a day after Mohammadi Ashtiani appeared before a group of journalists working for international news networks during what judiciary officials called an "out of prison" visit to her family.

The journalists were not allowed to ask her questions during the meeting which took place in the presence of judiciary officials at a guest house in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province.

His statement also came after Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, Mohammadi Ashtiani's son, pleaded before foreign media that her execution by stoning be stayed.

Sharifi said that certain "ambiguities" still remained in the "evidence" gathered in Mohammadi Ashtiani's case, and this was causing the delay in taking a final decision over the verdict.

The cleric said it was easy to issue a verdict in a case where the murderer clearly confesses to his crime.

"But in this case where the defendant (Mohammadi Ashtiani) denies or makes justifications and there are ambiguities in the evidence, the procedure gets prolonged," he said.

Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose stoning sentence has triggered an outcry in the West, was sentenced to death by two different courts in Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.

Her sentence to hang for her involvement in her husband's murder 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.

In her remarks to foreign media on Saturday, she said she wants to sue "the two German" journalists, her former lawyer Mohammad Mostafaie, anti-stoning campaigner Mina Ahadi and her husband's convicted murderer Issa Taheri.

"I have told Sajjad (her son)... to sue the ones who have disgraced me and the country... I have a complaint against them," she said.

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. Her son has been free on bail since last month.

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

"I am willing to talk because many people exploited (the case) and said I have been tortured, which is a lie... Leave my case alone. Why do you disgrace me?" the convicted woman asked the reporters.

Berlin said on Sunday that Mohammadi Ashtiani's remarks appeared to have been made under duress.

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

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

Ahadi too told AFP in Berlin that Mohammadi Ashtiani's remarks were made under "enormous pressure" exerted by "the Islamic regime of Iran."

The deputy editor of Bild am Sonntag said he was "surprised and amazed" at Mohammadi Ashtiani's remarks about the newspaper's reporters.

"We find it surprising that a woman sentenced to death in Iran could leave prison for a few hours to announce to the Western media that she wants charges against the journalists reporting on her case," Michael Backhaus said.

Sharifi, the provincial judiciary chief, said that Mohammadi Ashtiani's meeting with foreign media was arranged following requests from the media themselves.

Prominent Germans, including business leaders, ministers and top sports stars, on Sunday urged Iran to free the two journalists.

"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.

© 2011 AFP

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