German campaign group says Iran stoning woman freed

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Supporters of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, were still waiting for official confirmation Friday of a report that the Iranian authorities had freed her.

A German-based campaign group said late Thurday that Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani had been released, along with her son and lawyer after photographs of her on home leave were released.

But there was no official word from the Tehran authorities.

"We have got news from Iran that they are free," Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the Anti-Stoning Committee, told AFP.

"We are waiting for another confirmation: apparently there will be a programme this evening on (Iranian) television and then we will be 100-percent sure."

But there was no confirmation either from the state media, and a German foreign ministry spokesman also said: "We cannot confirm the news."

The French foreign ministry refused comment and other campaigners for Sakineh remained cautious.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, however, immediately hailed the reported release as "a great day for human rights."

Pictures secured by Western media apparently showing Sakineh at her house last Sunday during a brief home leave for a television interview could have sparked mistaken reports of a release.

In Paris, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy who has been spearheading a campaign for her release, told AFP he was sceptical about the news of her release.

"We are maybe facing an enormous and montrous manipulation", he said.

Sakineh, a 43-year-old mother of two, was initially given death sentences by two different courts in the northwestern city of Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.

A 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 of 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.

Sakineh's current lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, was arrested in the northwestern city of Tabriz in September along with two Germans who were conducting an interview with her son.

The Germans, who entered Iran on tourist visas and worked for the Bild am Sonntag Sunday newspaper, are accused of spying.

Rejecting the international outcry over the death sentence, the head of Iran's High Human Rights Council has drawn parallels between her case and that of Teresa Lewis.

Lewis, a 41-year-old grandmother was executed in late September for murder, despite protests that she had diminished mental faculties.

Iraninan President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a similar point in comments last month.

"In the United States there are 53 women condemned to death. Why is the whole world not asking them to pardon these women?"

© 2010 AFP

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