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Iran Dashes Hopes That Stoning Woman Has Been Freed


Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani during an interview with Iran's Press TV on December 4.
Iranian state television today strongly denied reports that a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery had been freed, saying instead that she would describe on air how she had murdered her husband.

The announcement, by the English-language satellite channel Press TV, came as a bitter blow to international campaigners who had initially hailed reports suggesting that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani had been released.

Press TV had earlier broadcast pictures of Ashtiani at her home in Osku, northwest Iran, along with her son Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, prompting rumors that the authorities had bowed to international pressure to free her.

But amid a flurry of reports and celebratory statements by human rights activists, the channel issued a denial on its website in which it said Ashtiani had merely been allowed home to take part in a documentary about how she had murdered her husband.

"Contrary to a vast publicity campaign by Western media that confessed murderer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been released, a broadcast production team with the Iran-based Press TV has arranged with Iran's judicial authorities to follow Ashtiani to her house to produce a visual recount of the crime at the murder scene," the channel said.

It said the program would be screened on December 10 at midnight.

'Unequivocally Condemn'

The announcement was roundly condemned by the German-based International Committee Against Stoning, whose spokesperson, Mina Ahadi, had reacted ecstatically to the initial erroneous reports of Ashtiani's release.

Speaking on behalf of Ahadi, Mariam Namazi, a human rights campaigner, said activists had originally believed Ashtiani and her son would be released in exchange for taking part in the program. She accused Press TV of airing pictures of Ashtiani to deliberately mislead campaigners.

"We condemn unequivocally Press TV's actions in this regard," Namazi said. "They say that they are a media outlet, but they are actually acting as an arm of the intelligence service of the regime and basically forcing [Ashtiani and her son] under duress to confess to the murder of her husband.

"They are doing this deliberately. One of the main reasons is because of the outrage around the stoning case, and they are trying to change this from a stoning case to an execution one. They want to find her guilty of murdering her husband."

Ashtiani's sentence to be stoned for adultery -- the only crime which carries that penalty under Iran's Islamic Shari'a law -- was suspended after an international outcry by Western countries and some others that have warm relations with Iran.

The European Union called it "barbaric," the Vatican pleaded for clemency, and Brazil, which has tried to intervene in Iran's standoff with the West over its nuclear program, offered Ashtiani asylum.

Faces Execution By Hanging

However, Ashtiani still faces possible execution by hanging after being convicted of murdering her husband. State television has previously run programs in which a woman purporting to be Ashtiani describes herself as a "sinner."

In an interview with U.S. television in September, Iran's president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, denied Ashtiani had ever been sentenced to stoning, contradicting other Iranian officials. Iranian media do not refer to her stoning sentence for adultery, focusing instead on the murder charge.

Ashtiani, 43, was sentenced to death by two different courts in the northwestern city of Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.

A sentence to hang for her involvement in the murder of her husband was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.

But a second sentence to death by stoning on charges of adultery leveled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband's murder, was later upheld by another appeals court the same year.

written by Robert Tait, with agency reports
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