Stoning woman to be lashed over photo

By Peter Beaumont, Saeed Kamali Dehghan

Iran has reportedly sentenced Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani - the 43-year-old Iranian woman who faces execution after being convicted of adultery - to 99 lashes in prison for "spreading corruption and indecency" after allowing an unveiled picture of herself to be published in a British newspaper.

The claim comes from her family and a lawyer representing Mohammadi Ashtiani, based on reports from those who have recently left the prison in Tabriz where she has been held for the last four years.

The latest charges against Mohammadi Ashtiani would appear to suggest the Iranian authorities have been stung by the international outcry her case has attracted through the campaign of her family and supporters in the media, and could be read as a warning that she could suffer from the campaign.

What has made the latest charges against her even more extraordinary is the fact that the unveiled photograph in question, published by the Times newspaper on August 28, was not actually of Mohammadi Ashtiani but of another woman, for which the paper has since apologised.

The woman pictured was Susan Hejrat, an Iranian political activist living in Sweden whose photograph had been published on a website along with an article she had written about Mohammadi Ashtiani's case.

In its apology, the Times said that the photograph had been obtained from Mohammad Mostafaei, one of Mohammadi Ashtiani's lawyers, who had claimed that he received the picture from her son, Sajad - which he has denied.

Instead, in an open letter yesterday, Sajad Ghaderzadeh accused the Iranian authorities of using the mistaken picture as "an excuse to increase their harassment of our mother".

He added: "My mother has been called in to see the judge in charge of prison misdemeanours, and he has sentenced our helpless mother to 99 lashes on false charges of spreading corruption and indecency by disseminating this picture of a woman presumed to be her [Sakineh] without hijab."

Speaking yesterday, Sajad said: "This news reached us through some prisoners who were released from Tabriz prison recently and have informed my mother's lawyer, Houtan Kian, that she has been given a sentence of 99 lashes for the alleged unveiled photo of her published in Western media.

"As far as we know, the sentence of 99 lashes has not been administered yet.

"Once I got the Times apology for the misidentified photo, I instantly informed the lawyer and we are going to ask for an appeal.

"My mother has been denied visits for the past two weeks, no one has been allowed to visit her, including her family and even her lawyer.

"She has also been denied access to a phone and we have been completely cut off from her."

News of the latest punishment came amid reports from the family that they had learned her case has been referred for a judicial review to Branch 9 of Iran's supreme court which has requested police documents relating to her case, some of which appear to have gone missing.

The reports have also emerged amid an increasingly bitter war of words between Iran and Mohammadi Ashtiani's most high-profile supporter, Carla Bruni, the wife of France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was even described as a "prostitute" in one Iranian newspaper for her intervention.

Mohammadi Ashtiani was first convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the death of her husband and was sentenced by a court to 99 lashes.

Later that year she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death, even though she retracted a confession that she claims was made under duress.

Iran lifted that sentence last month, but now says that she has been convicted of involvement in her husband's killing.

According to the Iranian courts, her husband, Ebrahim Qaderzadeh, 44, was found dead on his bathroom floor in Meshkinshahr, in northwestern Iran.

Mohammadi Ashtiani is said by Iranian officials to have confessed to having had an extra-marital affair with the killer, Eisa Taheri, and to have said that she had seduced him.

The judiciary has also claimed that she confessed to having planned the murder in collaboration with Taheri, claims that are vigorously denied by her family.

Last month she was presented on Iranian state television where she "confessed" to involvement in the murder of her husband in a television interview recorded in Tabriz prison, where she is being held. It was suggested at that time that the 43-year-old had been tortured for two days before the recording of the confession.

Sajad also appealed to Mohammad Mostafaei not to make any more comments either on his mother's case or on his father's death.

Since her case has captured world attention, Iranian officials have claimed she was an accomplice to the murder of her husband although her government-appointed lawyer, Houtan Kian, has accused the government of inventing charges against her.

Sajad has said the only reason his mother is still alive is because of the international campaign for her release.

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