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Stoning woman faces 99 lashes over photo

AN Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery is now facing a new punishment of 99 lashes because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her, the woman’s son said yesterday.

There was no official confirmation of the new sentence. The son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, 22, said he did not know whether the new lashing sentence had been carried out yet, but heard about it from a prisoner who had recently left the Tabriz prison where his mother is being held.

The lawyer who once represented Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran said from Paris that the situation was not clear.

“Publishing the photo provided a judge an excuse to sentence my poor mother to 99 lashes on the charge of taking a picture unveiled,” Qaderzadeh told The Associated Press.

The Times of London said yesterday it had apologised for the photo, but added that the new sentence “is simply a pretext”.

“The regime’s purpose is to make Ms Ashtiani suffer for an international campaign to save her that has exposed so much iniquity,” the paper said.

Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men after the death of her husband a year earlier and was sentenced by a court back then to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death, even though she retracted a confession that she claims was made under duress.

Iran suspended that sentence in July, but now says she has been convicted of involvement in her husband’s killing and she could still be executed by hanging.

Her former lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, said in a news conference in Paris that it was not at all certain if there really had been a new conviction and sentence over the photograph.

“I have contacted my former colleagues at the court who told me nothing was clear on this situation,” he said following a news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. “There isn’t any punishment for this act in our law.”

Kouchner called the sentence to death by stoning “the height of barbarism” and said her case has become a “personal cause,” and he was “ready to do anything to save her. If I must go to Tehran to save her, I’ll go to Tehran.”

Ashtiani’s two children remain in Iran. Her son is a ticket seller for a bus company in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz. He said he and his sister Farideh, 18, have not seen their mother since early August.

“We have really missed her,” he said. “We expect all influential bodies to help to save her.”

The stoning sentence for Ashtiani has prompted international outcry over the past months with both Brazil and Italy asking Iran to show flexibility in the case.

The Vatican on Sunday raised the possibility of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save her life as well. Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said the Catholic Church opposed the death penalty in general.

Sajjad Qaderzadeh said that he fears his mother will be executed shortly after this week’s end to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Ramadan is coming to an end and, according to Islamic law, executions can resume,” he warned.

The Islamic calendar varies a little around the world, but Ramadan is due to come to an end everywhere this week.


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