Middle East

French minister Kouchner pledges to help save Ashtiani

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

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said he is willing "to do anything" to save an Iranian woman facing a death sentence for adultery.

"If I must go to Tehran to save her, I'll go to Tehran," Mr Kouchner said of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning in July.

Iran suspended the stoning sentence after an international outcry, but the mother of two could still be hanged.

Mr Kouchner was speaking after meeting one of Ms Ashtiani's lawyers in Paris.

Having spoken to Mohammad Mostafei, Mr Kouchner declared that Ms Ashtiani's case had become a "personal cause" for him.

On Sunday, the Vatican indicated that it was prepared to appeal diplomatically to Iran to spare Ms Ashtiani's life.

Spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said in a statement that the Vatican was "following this affair with attention and commitment".

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.

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 has appealed to Tehran to consider "an act of clemency".

Threat of more lashes

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 as a punishment.

But that September, during the trial of a man accused of murdering her husband, another court re-opened 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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