Iran TV airs 'confession' from woman facing stoning

The BBC's Jon Leyne explains what the footage showed

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Iranian state TV has aired what it says is a confession by a woman under threat of being stoned to death for adultery.

In the interview shown on Wednesday, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani purportedly admits conspiring to murder her husband in 2005 and denounces her lawyer.

After an international outcry, Iranian officials temporarily halted her stoning sentence last month, but there are fears she will now be hanged.

The 43-year-old had said she was forced to confess to the charges of adultery.

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 she said she had been forced to make under duress, Ms Ashtiani was convicted of "adultery while being married" and sentenced to death by stoning.

Murder case

The mother-of-two's alleged confession to complicity in her husband's murder, which was made in Azeri and dubbed into Persian, was aired on one of the main state-run television channels.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

  • Held on death row in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan since 2006
  • 43 years old; two children
  • May 2006: 99 lashes for "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband
  • September 2006: Case re-opened during trial of a man accused of murdering her husband; convicted of "adultery while being married"; sentenced to death by stoning despite retracting a confession
  • 8 July 2010: Iran suspends stoning sentence, says case will be reviewed
  • 11 July: East Azerbaijan judiciary says she was also convicted for conspiracy to murder husband
  • 24 July: One of her lawyers flees Iran
  • 7 August: Guardian publishes her statement that she was never convicted on murder charge

There was no mention of the stoning sentence and the focus of the interview was moved away from the allegation of adultery.

The woman, whose face was pixelated, admitted her part in the 2005 killing, despite Ms Ashtiani having earlier told Western media that she had been acquitted of the charge.

She said her husband's cousin had told her he wanted to kill her husband, but that she had assumed this was a joke.

"Later I realised that he was a killer," the woman said.

One day the man came to her house "with all the required equipment," she added.

"He had brought electric devices, wire and gloves. He then killed my husband by electrocuting him. He asked me before to send my children to their grandmother's house."

The woman also criticised her lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaie, for interfering in the case.

"Why has he taken my case to the TV? Why has he disgraced me?"

Mr Mostafaie has fled Iran and is now seeking asylum in Norway.

Iran defiance

Another of Ms Ashtiani's lawyers has said that she was tortured for two days in prison to force her to make her televised confession on Wednesday.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (file photo) Ms Ashtiani had said she was forced to confess to the charges of adultery

Human rights activists fear that she is now in danger of imminent execution.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent, Jon Leyne, says the Iranian authorities are clearly trying to move the focus away from the adultery charge and the stoning sentence, and to brand Ms Ashtiani a murderer.

The airing of the TV confession is a sign that she could soon be executed, probably by hanging, our correspondent says.

It seems the Iranian officials are sending a tough message to Western media and human rights groups that if they interfere in Iranian affairs and cause embarrassment, it will be counter-productive, he adds.

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