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'Some kind of bargain' only hope for Iranian woman facing stoning

Iran looks increasingly ready to abandon the 2006 sentence of stoning given to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for committing adultery. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that Iranian authorities won't carry out a death sentence by other means.

"Human rights considerations are foreign to this judiciary, and to the government," said Michel de Salaberry, a former Canadian ambassador to Iran. "And they're unaffected by Western denunciations."

Responding to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who earlier this week called the stoning sentence "barbaric beyond words," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast reminded reporters Wednesday that the death sentence has been suspended pending further deliberation.

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He added that Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani had been found guilty of murder and adultery: "Defending a person on trial for murder should not be turned into a human rights matter."

The spokesman was confirming information contained in an Aug. 29 statement issued by the Iranian judiciary's Human Rights Council, and which was first alluded to in July by council president Mohammad Javad Larijani.

All assert that the case involves more than simple adultery. They say Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani plotted with her lover to kill her husband and has in fact been "convicted of murdering her husband and adultery," in the words of Mr. Larijani.

Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the judiciary chief of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, went so far as to say the crimes committed by Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani were so heinous that "if she had only cut [off]the head of her husband, it would have been better than what she has done."

Observers insist Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani was never formally charged with murder or even complicity in murder, a charge that would carry a 15-year sentence.

The woman was first convicted on May 15, 2006, of having an "illicit relationship" with two men, for which she received 99 lashes. At the subsequent trial of the man accused of murdering her husband, Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani was charged with "adultery while being married." It is for that crime that she was sentenced to death by stoning.

In August, however, in what critics say is an attempt to reopen the case against Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani, Iranian television broadcast an apparent confession in which she described her role in her husband's killing. Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, the son of Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani and the slain man, says his mother was tortured into confessing.

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In an interview last week with French journalist Bernard-Henri Levy, Mr. Ghaderzadeh called the suggestion his mother was involved in the murder "a blatant lie."

Added to that, he said, is the injustice that his mother "who has done nothing, nothing, risks being stoned, whereas the real murderer, Taheri, goes free." Issa Taheri, believed to have been Ms. Ashtiani's lover, was pardoned by the court after Mr. Ghaderzadeh and his sister forgave him for killing their father.

Governments, celebrities and ordinary citizens from around the world have joined international human-rights organizations in a campaign against the stoning sentence. But Iranian officials appear determined to deal with the case despite the international outcry and may simply carry out the execution by hanging.

"The only hope this woman has," said Mr. de Salaberry, "is if some kind of bargain could be arranged. Tehran only understands realpolitik." That appears to be how France won the release of a French woman held in Iran on a charge of spying. "They made a deal for her.""Either that, or if friends of Iran, countries like Brazil and Turkey, persuaded Tehran to let her live. They might listen to them."

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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