The son of an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned to death on an adultery charge said Monday that he is worried that her execution could be carried out soon with the end of a moratorium on death sentences for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"Ramadan is about to end and according to Islamic law executions can resume," he said from Iran on Monday, in a telephone conversation with the French writer and activist Bernard-Henri Levy. Ramadan ends in Iran on September 11.
The sentence against 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was put on hold in July after an international outcry over the brutality of the punishment. It is now being reviewed by Iran’s Supreme Court.
Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men after the murder of her husband the year before.
She was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.
“The possibility of stoning still exists, any moment,” her lawyer Javid Houtan Kian said. “Her stoning sentence was only delayed; it has not been lifted yet.”
After putting the stoning sentence on hold, Iran suddenly announced that the woman had also been brought to trial and convicted of playing a role in her husband’s 2005 murder. Her lawyer disputes that, saying no charges against her in the killing have ever been part of her case file.
In early August, Iranian authorities broadcast a purported confession from Ashtiani on state-run television. In it, a woman identified as Ashtiani admits to being an unwitting accomplice in her husband’s killing.
Kian says he believes she was tortured into confessing. Last week a journalist who shared a cell with Sakineh told FRANCE 24 that she believed the televised “confession” was a fake
Shahnaz Gholami was confined to the same cell as Turkish-speaking Sakineh before fleeing the country while on bail.
Gholami told FRANCE 24: “Her words had been dubbed into Persian and she talked about many other issues .... in my opinion it was not Sakineh.”
99 lashes for a photo of another woman
In an unusual turn in the case, the lawyer also said that Ashtiani was lashed 99 times last week in a separate punishment after a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman the newspaper mistakenly identified as Skineh.
Under Iran’s clerical rule, women must cover their hair in public. An Iranian judge confirmed that the sentence had been handed out.
The woman’s son, 22-year-old Sajjad Qaderzadeh, said he did not know whether the new lashing sentence had been carried out yet, but that he had been told about the sentence from a prisoner who was recently released from the Tabriz prison where his mother is being held.
The Times apologised in its Monday edition but added that the lashing “is simply a pretext.”
“The regime’s purpose is to make Ms. Ashtiani suffer for an international campaign to save her that has exposed so much iniquity,” the newspaper said.
France is among several countries pressing for Iran to show restraint in the case.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has called the stoning sentence “the height of barbarism” and said her case has become a “personal cause” and he was “ready to do anything to save her. If I must go to Tehran to save her, I’ll go to Tehran.”
Italy has also been taking action to pressurise Iran into showing flexibility. The country’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said the Italian ambassador in Iran met with authorities in Tehran who “confirmed to us that no decision has been made” about the stoning sentence.
“I interpret that in the sense that the stoning, for now, won’t take place,” Frattini said in an interview on Italian state TV.
In France a petition, initiated by Bernard-Henri Levy through website laregledujeu.org, has already gathered more than 80,000 signatures.
The Vatican on Sunday raised the possibility of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save her life as well.