Lawyer: Iran woman could die soon
Tehran - The lawyer for an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned on an adultery conviction has said that he and her children are worried the delayed execution could be carried out soon with the end of a moratorium on death sentences for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In an unusual turn in the case, the lawyer also confirmed on Monday that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was lashed 99 times last week in a separate punishment meted out because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her.
Under Iran's clerical rule, women must cover their hair in public. The newspaper later apologised for the error.
With the end of Ramadan this week, the mother of two could be executed at "any moment", said her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian.
The sentence was put on hold in July after an international outcry over the brutality of the punishment, and it is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court.
No decision on stoning yet
Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes.
Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.
Italy is among several countries pressing for Iran to show flexibility in the case. The country's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said the Italian ambassador in Iran met with authorities in Tehran who "confirmed to us that no decision has been made" about the stoning sentence.
"I interpret that in the sense that the stoning, for now, won't take place," Frattini said in an interview on Italian state TV.
After putting the stoning sentence on hold, Iran suddenly announced that the woman had also been brought to trial and convicted of playing a role in her husband's 2005 murder. Her lawyer disputes that, saying no charges against her in the killing have ever been part of her case file.
In early August, Iranian authorities broadcast a purported confession from Ashtiani on state-run television. In it, a woman identified as Ashtiani admits to being an unwitting accomplice in her husband's killing.
Kian says he believes she was tortured into confessing.
In the latest twist, authorities are said to have flogged her for the publication of a photo of a woman without her hair covered in the Times of London newspaper. The woman in the photo was misidentified as Ashtiani.
She was lashed on Thursday, Kian said, citing information from a fellow prisoner who was released last week. Kian has been allowed no direct contact with his client since last month.
"We have no access to Ashtiani, but there is no reason for the released prisoner to lie" about the flogging, he said.
There was no official Iranian confirmation of the new punishment.
Excuse for lashing
The woman's son, 22-year-old Sajjad Qaderzadeh, said he did not know whether the new lashing sentence had been carried out yet, but that he also heard about the sentence from a prisoner who recently left the Tabriz prison where his mother is being held.
"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 AP.
The Times apologised in its Monday edition but added that the lashing "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 newspaper said.
Another lawyer who once represented Ashtiani, Mohammad Mostafaei, said in a news conference in Paris that it was not 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 at the news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
"There isn't any punishment for this act in our law."
Help from Vatican
Kouchner called the stoning sentence "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 and her son is a ticket-seller for a bus company in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz. He said he and his younger 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 Vatican on Sunday raised the possibility of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save her life as well.