An Iranian woman whose sentence of death by stoning for adultery provoked an international outcry could be executed by hanging instead, the country’s judicial authorities have indicated.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 44-year-old mother of two, was convicted of conducting an “illicit relationship outside marriage” in 2006 and has since been detained in Tabriz prison in the west of Iran.
Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the head of the judiciary in East Azerbaijan Province, said on Sunday that the prison does not have the “necessary facilities” to carry out the sentence of stoning. Therefore, he said, authorities are considering hanging as an alternative.
Sharifi said an investigation has been launched to determine whether it is legally and religiously possible to go ahead with the hanging instead of the stoning.
“As soon as the result of the investigation is obtained, we will carry out the sentence,” he said in quotes carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Mohammadi Ashtiani’s sentence was temporarily halted in response to international protests, and Iranian officials have since made confusing and often contradictory comments about her fate.
Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied she had been given a sentence of stoning, while a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, signaled her life could be spared.
Mina Ahadi, a member of the International Committee against Stoning, said Sharifi’s remarks proved international pressure had succeeded, but warned that an execution was still a real possibility.
“Iran kept quiet about Sakineh for almost a year and we had little information about her case, and now ... they have suddenly stepped forward to say she could be hanged,” she said. “I believe they are testing the water.”
Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case came to prominence in July last year when her children appealed to the international community to help stop the imminent execution of their mother.
Within days, hundreds of human rights activists, campaigners and world leaders joined an international campaign for her release and Mohammadi Ashtiani soon became the symbol for those facing the punishment of stoning in Iran.
Seven people have been stoned to death in Iran since 2006 and at least 14 are currently facing death by stoning, according to the non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights.
At her trial, Mohammadi Ashtiani was also given a 10-year prison term for the murder of her husband, which her lawyer said was subsequently reduced to five years for “complicity” in the crime.
In recent years, Iran has been criticized for the sharp rise in its executions. Earlier this month, Amnesty International called Iran’s escalating use of capital punishment “a killing spree of staggering proportions.” At least 600 people have been executed in Iran this year.