France: Europe looking to save Iranian death sentence woman

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France and its European allies are looking for a way to work together to save an Iranian woman who was sentenced to death for adultery, the French foreign ministry said Monday.

Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother-of-two, was initially sentenced to death by stoning, although this has reportedly been changed to hanging, and her case has caused worldwide condemnation.

"France and its European partners are currently studying all means that can be put into action to ensure the sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani is not carried out," ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages told reporters.

The ministry was reacting after figures including Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka and Jody Williams, Czech author Milan Kundera, singer and anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof and actress Juliette Binoche appealed for action.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy organised a petition and an open letter was published in the French daily Liberation, urging world leaders to come to the woman's defence.

A woman dressed in a face-covering veil and said to be Mohammadi-Ashtiani confessed on Iranian television to being an accomplice in her husband's murder in 2006. She had previously been found guilty of adultery.

Her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, told Human Rights Watch that Iranian authorities have prevented him from seeing his client, and that he expected the Supreme Court to make its final ruling in the next few days on whether her execution will go ahead.

On July 11, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, had temporarily halted the execution, after the case attracted international condemnation.

The French foreign ministry spokeswoman said that Paris was particularly concerned to hear claims that the defendant had been tortured before making her "confession" and restated France's long-standing opposition to the death penalty in general.

© 2010 AFP

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