Tehran: After the world spoke out against the barbaric sentence for an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, Iran has said that that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani will not be stoned to death.
"She will not be executed by stoning punishment," the Iranian embassy said in a statement to London's Channel 4 news Thursday, commenting on reports that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would be stoned to death for "illicit relationships" conducted after the death of her husband.
The embassy claims that, despite international reports, the violent punishment was never actually on the table. "This mission denies the false news aired in this respect," the embassy said in the statement.
"The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran highly recommends that news and reports should not be taken for granted and considered a reliable source of information for official statements or misjudgements."
It had read like a story straight out of the Middle Ages: Caught committing adultery, a woman was sentenced to a barbaric fate. But for Ashtiani, the brutal sentence seemed far from ancient history -- it was a terrifying reality.
Ashtiani was found to have had "illicit relationships" with two men after the death of her husband, and initially sentenced to 99 lashings.
But after she was flogged in front of her teenage son, the case was re-opened and the judge ultimately gave her the death penalty, sentencing her to a violent end.
Under Iran's Islamic laws, adultery is the only capital offense that can be punished by stoning, the AP reports. A man is usually buried up to his waist, and a woman up to her neck.
Those attending the execution then throw stones at the prisoner until he or she dies. If the convicted person is able to escape from the hole, the death sentence is commuted.
Ashtiani already has spent five years in prison, and her two children were heartbroken and horrified by her sentence. "Imagining her, bound inside a deep hole in the ground, stoned to death, has been a nightmare for me and my sister for all these years," her son Sajad, 22, told the Guardian.
Since news of Ashianti's sentence broke, human rights activists, politicians and celebrities have voiced outrage.
Stoning is a "medieval punishment which has no role in the modern world," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the AP on Thursday. "If the punishment is carried out, it will disgust and appall the watching world."
Celebrities such as Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, and Robert Redford have added their names to a campaign pushing for Ashianti's release, according to The Times of London, which also quoted Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass) voicing his disgust.
Even Lindsay Lohan weighed in on the case, taking to Twitter on Wednesday to post a link to the story and asking her fans to pass it on.
Stoning is a common sentence under Iran's Islamic laws, but rarely comes to pass -- the punishment is typically given in name only and later converted to a fine.
The last known stoning took place in 2008, the AP reports, although human rights activists believe there may have been more because the government rarely confirms that a stoning has been carried out.
Mina Ahadi, a prominent human rights activist in Germany, has been working to raise the profile on Ashtiani’s case, and says she knows of at least 12 other Iranian women awaiting the same fate.
"These are just the women I know,” she said. “I estimate that at least 40 to 50 other women are waiting for the same destiny in Iran right now.”
First Published: Friday, July 09, 2010, 09:48