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Why Iran suspended woman's stoning sentence

Iran suspended the stoning sentence for a woman convicted of adultery amid mounting international pressure, including the European Parliament's 658-1 resolution against such punishment.

By Staff writer / September 8, 2010

A protester dressed in a costume depicting a woman stoned to death in Iran, participates in a demonstration against the government of Iran in central London, Aug. 25.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

Caving in to growing international criticism, Iran on Wednesday suspended a woman's death-by-stoning sentence.

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European leaders and Western activists had sought to prevent the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, convicted of adultery, in a mounting war of words with Iranian hard-liners – including one who called French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy a “prostitute” who deserved to be killed after she advocated on the woman's behalf.

“The verdict regarding the extramarital affairs has stopped and it’s being reviewed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran’s state-run PressTV. He said a separate murder charge was “being investigated for the final verdict to be issued.”

Subsequent PressTV newscasts quoted Mr. Memanparast denying reports that Ms. Ashtiani had received 99 lashes as “absolutely wrong” and conjured up by the Western media “to give it this emotional sense, to stir up people’s emotions.”

“It means that international pressure has begun to tell, and finally they have begun to realize the negative fallout from this is much, much greater than efforts to prove the authenticity of Islamic justice,” says Anoushiravan Ehteshami, an Iran specialist at Durham University in England.

European Parliament resolution: 658-1 against stoning

The European Parliament passed a resolution 658-1 Wednesday saying that a stoning punishment “can never be justified or accepted.” On Tuesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the sentence was “barbaric beyond words,” with “no justification under any moral or religious code.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was willing go to Tehran if it would prevent the stoning. Brazil – one of the nations closest to Iran, which brokered a nuclear deal with Iran and Turkey last May – has offered Ms. Ashtiani asylum. The Vatican has also weighed in on what it criticized as the “brutal” punishment.

As outrage has grown, so, too, has Iran’s official determination not to buckle, though some Iranian media have indicated the stoning sentence might be changed to hanging, or to a lesser sentence. One pillar of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution was “independence” from the political and cultural influence of outside powers – especially the West.

“The most important lesson for them is that there are certain global norms now that you break at considerable expense to yourself,” says Professor Ehteshami. “And for all the ups and downs we’ve had over this case … and the government insistence that it would not allow any interference, that it would not yield to international pressure – well, we’ve seen the exact opposite [and] that ultimately it has not been able to cocoon itself.”

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