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A woman in Iran is prepared for stoning (undated).
Human rights groups and concerned supporters have launched a campaign against the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, asking the Iranian government to revisit her case and revise its execution practices.

According to a recent Amnesty International report, the human rights organization made a new call on June 30 to the Iranian government to immediately halt all executions and desist all death sentences. The group has recorded 126 executions in Iran from the start of this year to June 6.

Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, faces "imminent" execution by stoning for confessing to adultery in 2006. According to CNN, Ashtiani confessed under pressure upon receiving 99 lashes after her arrest, but she later retracted her statements and denied any wrongdoing.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran also issued an appeal to the Iranian judiciary to halt the execution and asked the Iranian parliament to abolish the punishment of death by stoning.

When a woman is executed by stoning in accordance with Shari'a law, she is typically buried up to her breasts -- men are buried to their waists -- and bystanders are invited to throw stones until she dies. An April Amnesty International report said that according to Article 104 in Shari'a law, with reference to adultery, the stones used should "not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones." Ashtiani was sentenced to be stoned with medium-sized stones so she would die more slowly.

CNN's report also indicated that Ashtiani could be stoned "at any time," and prisoners are often not informed of their execution until the last minute.

The International Campaign for Human Rights also reported that Ashtiani was in an abusive marriage that led to the murder of her husband by another man she became involved with. She and the man were sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the judges decided, without solid evidence, to also sentence her for having an extramarital relationship with a man.

The International Committee Against Stoning has also launched an international campaign in support of Ashtiani and other Iranian women who could face death by stoning. The group, led by Mina Ahadi (see CNN interview), is organizing worldwide protests, inviting people to write letters and providing lists of executions by stoning committed by the Iranian government.

Philip Crowley, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said at a State Department press conference last week that the United States does not support the disproportional laws that punish women by death for committing adultery.

"We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime," he said. "And for a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns, and disproportionate treatment of women in terms of how society metes out justice."

Last year, the independent film "The Stoning of Soraya M.," was released about a woman who was stoned for allegedly committing adultery in an Iranian village. It is now banned in Iran for its criticism of the Iranian legal system.

-- Ladan Nekoomaram
Eynulla Fatullayev in a Baku court in June
Imprisoned newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev delivered a three-hour speech in his last hearing before the judges issue a verdict on his drug case, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Fatullayev said in his final address to the judges in the Baku court on July 2 that the government is refusing to let him out of prison despite calls from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which in April ruled that he should be released by Azerbaijani officials and paid 25,000 euros ($33,000) for moral damages.

Fatullayev, who was jailed for 8 1/2 years in 2007 for terrorism, inciting interethnic hatred, and tax evasion, is facing an additional three years for allegedly "storing drugs" in prison.

In late December 2009, prison guards at the labor camp where Fatullayev is serving his prison term claimed they found 0.22 grams of heroin in his pockets and shoes. Fatullayev said the trace amount of drugs were planted by camp guards.

Fatullayev also told the court on July 2 that he had received warnings from top officials to stop his journalism activity before he got arrested.

"One of the top officials told me that my newspaper irritates the head of state because the newspaper is not only critical but also popular," he said.

Fatullayev said he knows that the government will not release him because it knows he would continue working as a journalist.

"It will not be difficult for me to find donors and start the work," he told the court, "and I would produce an even more popular newspaper than I used to."

Before his arrest, Fatullayev had been the editor in chief of the newspaper "Realny Azerbaijan."

Fatullayev urged the lead judge, Ismayil Khalilov, not to follow political orders. He referred to the case of Russian judge Ekaterina Guseva, who lost her post for refusing to follow orders from government officials. Fatullayev urged Khalilov to follow her example and build a unique case for an independent judiciary in Azerbaijan.

The verdict of the court will be made on July 6.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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