TEHRAN, July 10, 2010 (AFP) - Iran was reviewing a sentence of stoning to death against a woman accused of adultery, a rights official said, but her lawyer warned Saturday there was no guarantee the execution would be halted.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran's top human rights official, said late Friday that the verdict of death by stoning against Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani is being reviewed by the judiciary.
"She was sentenced to 90 lashes by one court and stoning by another. The verdict is under revision," Larijani was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
He said the chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, was of the opinion that it was preferable to use another penalty instead of stoning "and that is true for Ms Mohammadi-Ashtiani."
Larijani did not say what penalty she could face instead, but added: "The penalty of stoning exists under the law but the judges rarely use it."
Her lawyer Mohammad Mostafai told AFP on Saturday that he had yet to receive any official confirmation that the stoning sentence had been revised.
"There is no guarantee that it will be halted," he said.
The Iranian embassy in London said in a statement reported by The Times on Friday that Mohammadi-Ashtiani would no longer be stoned to death.
The embassy said that "according to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, (Mohammadi-Ashtiani) will not be executed by stoning."
Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, was convicted on May 15, 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men, according to Amnesty International and her lawyer.
Amnesty said she received 99 lashes as per her sentence but was subsequently accused of "adultery while being married" in September 2006 during the trial of a man accused of murdering her husband.
Mostafai said his client knew the man who "killed her husband and because she was at home when the murder took place, she was accused as an accomplice."
"But after her kids pardoned her in the case of murder, she now stands accused of adultery with that man."
Under Iranian law if a murder victim's family, in this case the children of Mohammadi-Ashtiani and her slain husband, forgive the accused, the convict can be either pardoned or given a jail term.
Mostafai added that adultery cases involving women in Iran arise due to difficulties in getting divorces from their husbands despite having "troubled marriages."
The stoning sentence has also sparked outcry in Western countries.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington that "stoning as a means of execution is tantamount to torture. It's barbaric and an abhorrent act."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in London that if the "mediaeval" execution went ahead it would "disgust and appall" the world.
An open letter condemning the execution has also been signed by figures such as former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, three ex-British foreign ministers, Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and actor Robert De Niro.
Larijani insisted that any revision of Mohammadi-Ashtiani's sentence would not be due to pressure from the West.
"The (Iranian) judiciary cannot change its course because of the West's attack and media pressure," he said.
"The Western assault in this regard has no effect on our judges' view. The rulings of the sharia (Islamic law) such as stoning... have always faced their (West) outrageous hostility. Any issue that comes from sharia is met with their opposition."
In January 2009, Iranian media reported that seven people faced death by stoning. One of them, a man, was later executed by hanging the following month.
Another man, accused of adultery, was stoned to death on March 5 in a prison in the northern city of Rasht.
On October 4, a man and woman, accused of adultery were set free after their defence lawyers won the appeal.
Prior to the stoning in Rasht, Iranian media claimed that five Iranians had been stoned to death over the preceding four years, including two men in Mashhad in December 2008.