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Canada calls planned execution of Iranian woman 'completely out of line'

The Canadian government is "deeply troubled" by reports that an Iranian woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning could be executed as soon as Wednesday.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, may be put to death by hanging, rather than stoning, according to a European rights group that has monitored her case.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon responded to the news in the House of Commons Tuesday.

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"Our government is deeply troubled by reports that Iran may be moving forward with its plans to execute this woman," Mr. Cannon said. "The appalling treatment of her is completely out of line with international standards and the rule of law."

In Washington, the White House also weighed in Tuesday, urging Iran to halt the execution and saying the case demonstrated the regime's "fundamental disregard for human rights."

Marina Nemat, an Iranian-Canadian author who was tortured in Iran and has campaigned with Indigo Books and Music CEO Heather Reisman to save Ms. Ashtiani, said the execution may or may not be imminent, as little is clear when dealing with Iran.

"I'm keeping my hopes up because the question is what the Iranian regime would gain from killing this woman," Ms. Nemat said. "The world would be outraged."

She urged the Canadian government to speak out more forcefully in condemnation of Iran's human-rights abuses.

"Canada used to be so famous worldwide when it came to human-rights issues," Ms. Nemat said. "I'm not saying we should attack Iran. But release statements. At least condemn it. Be vocal about it. And nothing is coming out of the Prime Minister's office."

Canada has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran stemming from United Nations Security Council resolutions, and in July announced unilateral sanctions that, among other things, ban Canadian investment in Iranian oil and gas projects. Canada has also issued several statements condemning Iran, and for the last seven years presented an Iran resolution at the UN General Assembly that highlights the country's record of human-rights failures.

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Ms. Ashtiani's case provoked an international outcry when it first came to light earlier this year. Iran suspended her sentence to be stoned to death in September, but the country's judiciary chief made it clear she could still face execution by hanging for an alleged role in the plot to kill her former husband. In August, Iranian television aired an interview in which Ms. Ashtiani admitted to a relationship with a man accused of murdering her husband, but rights groups have said the confession was coerced.

Payam Akhavan, an Iranian-born international law professor at McGill University, said the stoning case reflects a broader conflict in Iran, as a hard-line regime under threat from a democracy movement tries to maintain its hold on power. He said Ms. Ashtiani is one of more than 30 women threatened by stoning in a country that now has the world's highest per-capita rate of executions.

"This is part of the terrorization of the people," Prof. Akhavan said. "When you start executing large numbers of people in heinous ways, you're sending a message to the public at large."

Prof. Akhavan said Canada should follow the lead of the United States, which in September issued an executive order against eight senior members of the Iranian regime, including the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, which allows the U.S. to seize their assets, block their travel to the U.S. and prevent Americans from doing business with them.

"The signal that it sends is that we're not just issuing a UN resolution condemning the government," Prof. Akhavan said. "We are blaming you, individually, and your name has now been carved in stone and one day when you're not in power everyone will know who you are."

With a report from AFP

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Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

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