9 Jul 2010

Iranian woman won't be stoned to death after all

7:00 pm on 9 July 2010

The authorities in Iran have announced that a woman convicted of adultery will not be stoned to death.

But it is not clear whether they have lifted the death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been in prison in Tabriz since 2006.

The 43-year-old had already been punished with flogging for an "illicit relationship" outside marriage when another court tried her for adultery.

There has been an international campaign to prevent her being stoned. Amnesty International called on the Iranian authorities to halt all executions and commute all death sentences, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the continued use of stoning showed Iran's disregard for human rights.

"If the punishment is carried out, it will disgust and appal the watching world," he told a news conference in London on Thursday.

Certain size of stone required

Under Iran's strict interpretation of Islamic law, sex before marriage is punishable by 100 lashes, but married offenders are sentenced to death by stoning. The stones used must be large enough to cause the condemned person pain but not so big as to kill immediately.

In May 2006, a criminal court in East Azerbaijan province found Ms Ashtiani guilty of having had an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband.

Despite retracting a confession she said she had been forced to make under duress, she was convicted and given 99 lashes.