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Iran stoning sentence for adultery draws outrage

This undated image made available by Amnesty International in London, Thursday July 8, 2010, shows Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two who is facing the punishment of stoning to death in Iran, on charges of adultery. Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague has called on the Iranian government to prevent the stoning of Ashtiani, 43 - a call that has already been endorsed by congressmen, diplomats, and rights activists on both sides of the Atlantic. Protests are reportedly planned in front of the Iranian Embassy over the weekend. This undated image made available by Amnesty International in London, Thursday July 8, 2010, shows Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two who is facing the punishment of stoning to death in Iran, on charges of adultery. Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague has called on the Iranian government to prevent the stoning of Ashtiani, 43 - a call that has already been endorsed by congressmen, diplomats, and rights activists on both sides of the Atlantic. Protests are reportedly planned in front of the Iranian Embassy over the weekend. (AP Photo/Amnesty International, ho)
By Raphael G. Satter
Associated Press Writer / July 8, 2010

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LONDON—The case of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning drew international outrage after her lawyer's blog posts sparked a global campaign to save her life, and British media reported late Thursday that the stoning would not occur.

The Iranian Embassy in London said that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would no longer face death by stoning, according to Channel 4 News and The Guardian newspaper. A message seeking comment from the embassy was not immediately returned, and it was not immediately clear if Ashtiani still faced death by other means.

"According to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment," the embassy said in the statement reported by Channel 4 News and The Guardian.

Ashtiani's face, framed in a black chador, stared from the front page of The Times of London on Thursday, while The Guardian carried an interview with Ashtiani's children -- 22-year-old Sajad and 17-year-old Farideh -- who described the sentence as a nightmare. Protests are planned in front of the Iranian Embassy over the weekend.

Stoning is a "medieval punishment which has no role in the modern world," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters Thursday. "If the punishment is carried out, it will disgust and appall the watching world," Hague said in a media conference with Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu in London.

He appealed to Tehran to halt the planned execution.

Celebrities including Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, and Robert Redford have already signed on to the campaign to push for her release, according to The Times, which also quoted U.S. Senator John Kerry and Howard Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, as expressing their disgust at the sentence.

Even Lindsay Lohan publicized the case, becoming one of hundreds of Twitter users rallying the online world to Ashtiani's defense.

Under Iran's Islamic laws, adultery is the only capital offense punishable by stoning. A man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck. Those carrying out the verdict then pelt the convict with stones until he or she dies.

Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the revolution, and even though Iran's judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to fines. The last known stoning was carried out in 2008, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been meted out.

"It's possible that the numbers are much higher than has been reported," said Faraz Sanei, an Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, one of several groups publicizing Ashtiani's case.

The rights group said she was first convicted in May of 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband -- for which a court in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, sentenced her to 99 lashes. But later that year she was also convicted of adultery, despite having retracted a confession which she claims was made under duress.

That Ashtiani's plight has received unusually wide play might be attributable to the determined work of Germany-based activist Mina Ahadi as well as to the Internet savvy of Ashtiani's lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, a prolific blogger, Sanei said.

In one of his recent posts, Mostafaei warned that his client could be executed at any time without notice, Sanei said.

Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, told reporters in the British capital that his country would raise the issue with Iran.

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Online:

Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/

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