Middle East

Iran stoning woman not executed, France says

Demonstrators holds a picture of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani a 43-year-old mother of two, who was sentenced to death in Iran, in Paris
Image caption Ms Ashtiani's case has sparked an international outcry

An Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery has not yet been executed, says French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

A rights group had said Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani could face the death penalty as early as Wednesday.

Mr Kouchner said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told him no verdict in her case had been reached.

The AFP news agency quoted an Iranian judiciary official as saying Ms Ashtiani was in "perfect health".

Ms Ashtiani was originally convicted of adultery several years ago and sentenced to death by stoning.

Her case rose to international prominence and in July reports emerged that she had been sentenced to death for the murder of her husband.

In September, Iran said her stoning sentence had been suspended but she could still be hanged for murder.

'Cease repression'

"Manouchehr Mottaki assured me that Iranian legal authorities had not yet reached a verdict in the affair relating to [Ms Ashtiani] and that the information regarding her alleged execution did not correspond to reality," Mr Kouchner said in a statement.

A rights group campaigning to free Ms Ashtiani earlier said that "authorities in Tehran have given the go-ahead to Tabriz prison" to execute her, possibly on Wednesday or soon after.

The International Committee Against Stoning then said that Ms Ashtiani had not been executed on Wednesday because of the global protests the news aroused.

A number of countries, including France, the US, the UK and Canada, had condemned her possible execution.

"We call on the Iranian authorities to respect basic human rights, cease their policy of repression and intimidation and release those who are currently being held without justification," said Mr Kouchner after his telephone call with Mr Mottaki.

The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said if the news of the postponement of Ms Ashtiani's execution were confirmed, "it would be a step in the right direction".

"The Iranian authorities should now use this occasion to review Ms Ashtiani's case in a fair and transparent trial," he said in a statement.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman accused the West of trying to exert undue pressure on his country.

"They have become so shameless that they have turned the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has committed crime and treason into a human rights case against our nation," said Ramin Mehmanparast.

"It has become a symbol of women's freedom in Western nations and with impudence they want to free her. Thus, they are trying to use this ordinary case as a pressure lever against our nation," he was quoted as saying by Iran's ISNA news agency, according to AFP.

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