TEHRAN (AFP) – The Iranian judiciary is focusing on the murder conviction of a mother of two rather than adultery charges for which she has been sentenced to death by stoning, the prosecutor general has said.
“I emphasise… that without doubt the accusation and sentencing for murder is taking precedence over the other accusation (of adultery) and the judiciary has put this on its agenda first,” Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie told state news agency IRNA late on Wednesday.
His statement indicated a possible shift in the handling of the case against Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, which has triggered an outcry in the West after she was sentenced to death by stoning on adultery charges.
Mohammadi-Ashtiani was initially given death sentences by two different courts in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz in separate trials in 2006.
A sentence to hang for her involvement in the murder of her husband was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.
But a second sentence, to die by stoning on a charge of adultery levelled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband’s murder, was upheld by a different appeals court the same year.
The stoning sentence triggered an outcry in the West which has labelled it “barbaric.”
Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s case stoked further controversy last month when her son Sajjad Qaderzadeh and lawyer Javid Houtan Kian were arrested, along with two Germans.
The Germans were reportedly interviewing the son at the time of their arrest. They were granted consular access late last month.
Mohseni Ejeie said that Mohammadi-Ashtiani still faces both the murder and the adultery charges but “some more time and investigation is required to arrive at a definite sentence.”
Iranian officials have said repeatedly that Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s case has not been finalised and is still going through the legal process.
They have accused the West of “shamelessly” exploiting it to put pressure on Iran by turning it into a human rights issue at a time when the two sides are at loggerheads over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.
“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,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said last week.
Human rights campaigners had highlighted Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s case in the run-up to a vote on Wednesday for seats on the board of UN Women, a new super body set up to champion women’s rights.
Iran failed to secure a seat on the board, even though its regional rival Saudi Arabia, which forbids women from driving cars or travelling without the permission of a male guardian, won election.
The United States, European Union, Australia and Canada carried out an intensive diplomatic campaign to sway votes away from Iran, diplomats said.
“They lost and they lost handily,” US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice commented on Iran’s defeat.
“We have made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board.”