Iran woman escapes stoning death for adultery

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (Family handout via Amnesty International) Ms Ashtiani says she was forced to confess to adultery during questioning

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The authorities in Iran have announced that a woman convicted of adultery will not be stoned to death.

But it is not clear whether they have lifted the death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been in prison in Tabriz since 2006.

The 43-year-old had already been punished with flogging for an "illicit relationship" outside marriage when another court tried her for adultery.

There has been an international campaign to prevent her being stoned.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said stoning was a "medieval punishment" and that its continued use showed Iran's disregard for human rights.

"If the punishment is carried out, it will disgust and appal the watching world," he told a news conference in London on Thursday.

Under Iran's strict interpretation of Islamic law, sex before marriage is punishable by 100 lashes, but married offenders are sentenced to death by stoning. The stones used must be large enough to cause the condemned pain, but not sufficient to kill immediately.

Ms Ashtiani's lawyer and human rights activists had warned that her execution was imminent, after appeals for clemency were rejected.

In May 2006, a criminal court in East Azerbaijan province found Ms Ashtiani guilty of having had an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband. She was given 99 lashes.

But that September, during the trial of a man accused of murdering her husband, another court reopened an adultery case based on events that allegedly took place before her husband died.

Despite retracting a confession that she said she had been forced to make under duress, Ms Ashtiani was found guilty.

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