Iran warns over interfering in stoning case

FOREIGN countries should not interfere in Iran’s legal system and stop trying to turn the case of a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery into a human rights issue, Tehran said yesterday.

The case of the 43-year-old mother-of-two, condemned to death for illicit sex and charged with involvement in her husband’s murder, provoked an international outcry, with Brazil offering her asylum and the Vatican speaking out against the “brutal” punishment.

A government spokesman said the furore was based on false information about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case.

“Unfortunately, [they are] defending a person who is being tried for murder and adultery, which are two major crimes of this lady and should not become a human rights issue,” Foreign Ministry Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.

“If releasing all those who have committed murder is to be perceived as a human rights issue, then all European countries should release all the murderers in their countries.”

The stoning case has further strained relations between Iran and the West which accuses the Islamic republic of seeking nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies.

In France, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said yesterday he was appalled to hear about the sentence.

“This is barbaric beyond words. We condemn such acts, which have no justification under any moral or religious code,” he said.

Details of the case are hard to establish in a country where many trials take place behind closed doors.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having had an “illicit relationship” with two men and received 99 lashes. She was subsequently convicted of “adultery while being married” and sentenced to death by stoning, it said.

Mehmanparast said the adultery conviction was under review and a verdict for charges of murder and being an accomplice to murder was pending. Iranian news reports have suggested the stoning sentence might be lifted, but that Ashtiani could still be hanged.

Ashtiani’s lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, fled to Europe to escape arrest in July and appeared at a news conference on Monday with French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner who called him a “hero of human rights”.

Britain has protested at the “medieval punishment” and Italy has called for a “gesture of clemency”.

Last month Iranian television aired an interview with a woman it said was Ashtiani admitting a relationship with a man who then murdered her husband. Human rights group, the International Committee Against Stoning, called the TV show “toxic propaganda”.

According to Amnesty International, Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes. It put to death at least 346 people in 2008.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran’s sharia law.


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