Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani 'confesses' to murder on Iran state TV

Lawyer says Ashtiani was tortured before interview recorded in Tabiz prison, and fears execution imminent.

The Iranian woman whose sentence to death by stoning sparked an international outcry is feared to be facing imminent execution, after she was put on a state-run TV programme last night where she confessed to adultery and involvement in a murder.

Speaking shakily in her native Azeri language, which could be heard through a voiceover, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani told an interviewer that she was an accomplice to the murder of her husband and that she had an extramarital relationship with her husband's cousin. Her lawyer told the Guardian last night that his client, a 43-year-old mother of two, was tortured for two days before the interview was recorded in Tabriz prison, where she has been held for the past four years.

"She was severely beaten up and tortured until she accepted to appear in front of camera. Her 22-year-old son, Sajad and her 17-year-old daughter Saeedeh are completely traumatised by watching this programme," said Houtan Kian.

He added that there were now fears that the Iranian authorities would act quickly to carry out the death sentence, which was reportedly commuted to hanging after an international outcry last month. The sentence was initially for "having an illicit relationship outside marriage" but some Iranian officials have claimed she was also found guilty of murdering her husband and should still face death by stoning.

The interview was broadcast on a show called 20:30, a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Tehran to honour treaty obligations to respect the rights of citizens and halt executions.

Observers suggested one of the signs she was speaking under duress was that in the interview she blamed the western media for interfering in her personal life.

In an interview last week with the Guardian through an intermediary, Mohammadi Ashtiani accused the Iranian authorities of lying about the charges against her to confuse the media in order to pave the way to execute her in secret. "I was found guilty of adultery and was acquitted of murder," she said.

Amnesty International condemned the "so-called" confession and said the independence of Iran's judiciary was "tattered" by the broadcast. "This makes a complete mockery of the judiciary system in Iran," said Drewery Dyke of Amnesty's Iran team. "Iran is inventing crimes ... it is an unacceptable practice that flies in the face of justice."

Mina Ahadi of the Iran Committee against Stoning (ICAS) said: "It's not the first time Iran has put an innocent victim on a televised programme and killed them on the basis of their forced confessions – it has happened numerously in the first decade of the Islamic Revolution."

Iran's state-run TV suggested international attention over Mohammadi Ashtiani was "western propaganda" aimed at forcing Iran to release three American hikers who have been held since last year.

(Published by The Guardian, August 12, 2010)



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