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Iran Suspends Four Planned Stoning Executions

TEHRAN -- Iran has decided to spare the lives of four people sentenced to death by stoning and is halting the implementation of other such sentences pending a review of their cases, the judiciary has said.

"The issued verdicts for all of these cases will not be carried out for now," judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Jamshidi did not say how many people had been sentenced to death by stoning. Defense lawyers last month said at least eight women and one man had received such sentences and may be executed at any time.

But Jamshidi said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had commuted the stoning sentences for two people to 10 years in jail. Two others would be lashed instead after a judicial review, state broadcaster IRIB said.

"In a few other cases, these people have asked for forgiveness and their under review," IRIB quoted Jamshidi as telling a news conference.

Lawyers defending several of those sentenced to stoning in July said the eight women, ranging in age from 27 to 43, had convictions including prostitution, incest, and adultery.

The man, a 50-year-old music teacher, was convicted of illegal sex with a student, they told a news conference on July 20. The lawyers urged parliament to remove stoning and other corporal punishments from law books.

The last officially reported stoning in the Islamic Republic was carried out on a man a year ago, which drew criticism from rights groups, the European Union, and a top UN official.

Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, ordered a moratorium on stoning in 2002.

According to Iran's Islamic Penal Code, men convicted of adultery should be buried up to their waists and women up to their chests for stoning. Stones used should not be large enough to kill the person immediately.

Amnesty International earlier this year called on Iran to immediately abolish "this grotesque punishment" and said many of those awaiting execution by stoning were sentenced after grossly unfair trials.

The Iranian authorities routinely dismiss charges of rights abuses, saying they are following sharia, or Islamic law.

Iran responds to Western criticism of its rights record by pointing to what it says are abuses in the West, such as detainees held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.