Iran says stoning sentence suspended

Iranian authorities have suspended the sentence of death by stoning for a woman convicted of adultery, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after weeks of condemnation from around the world.

"The verdict regarding the extramarital affairs has stopped and it's being reviewed," Foreign Ministry Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran's state-run English-language Press TV.

The statement came a day after European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the sentence "barbaric beyond words," the latest in a string of criticisms by foreign powers.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of adultery -- a capital crime in the Islamic Republic -- in 2006. She also has been charged with involvement in her husband's murder.

In a live telephone interview, Mehmanparast said the murder charge was "being investigated for the final verdict to be issued."

Iranian media have suggested that the stoning sentence -- imposed for certain crimes under sharia law which Iran adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution -- would not be carried out, but that Ashtiani might still be executed by hanging.

"We think that this is a very normal case," Mehmanparast said. "This dossier looks likes many other dossiers that exist in other countries."

At no point in the interview, which was in the Farsi language but was dubbed over by a simultaneous translation into English, did he mention "stoning," referring merely to Ashtiani's "death sentence."

Mehmanparast blamed the United States for stirring the furor to hurt Iran's international image as it faces sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

"It looks like they are playing a political game," he said.

According to Amnesty International, Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes. It put to death at least 346 people in 2008.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in Iran.

(Published by The New York Times – September 8, 2010)

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