Vatican 'may appeal' to Iran over stoning case

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (file photo) Ms Ashtiani's family say they have not been allowed to contact her in prison for two weeks

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The Vatican has said it could appeal diplomatically to Iran to spare the life of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

The statement followed a plea for help from the son of the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, in an interview with an Italian news agency.

After an international outcry, Iranian officials temporarily halted Ms Ashtiani's stoning sentence in July.

However, campaigners fear Ms Ashtiani could still be hanged.

The Vatican said it was "following this affair with attention and commitment," spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

"The Church's position against the death penalty is well known and stoning is a particularly brutal form of it," he said.

Fr Lombardi said the Vatican could use diplomatic channels to try to save Ms Ashtiani, but he told Associated Press news agency that no formal request to intervene had been made.

More lashes

In an interview with the Italian news agency Adnkronos, Ms Ashtiani's son Sajad Ghaderzadeh appealed to Pope Benedict XVI and the Italian government to help save his mother's life.

Italy has strong economic relations with Iran.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini appealed to Tehran to consider "an act of clemency".

On Saturday, Mr Ghaderzadeh said an Iranian judge had sentenced his mother to 99 lashes for "spreading corruption and indecency" over a photograph published in a British newspaper purportedly showing her without a head covering.

The photograph was published on 28 August but several days later the Times newspaper published an apology, saying the photograph was not of Ms Ashtiani, but of another Iranian woman.

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.

In August, Iranian TV aired what it said was a confession from Ms Ashtiani of her involvement in her husband's 2005 murder.

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