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Global support for woman condemned to death for adultery in Iran

Rallies were held across the world yesterday to support an Iranian woman condemned to death for adultery.

Supporters of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was jailed in 2005, held demonstrations in more than 30 cities worldwide, including London and Birmingham in the UK, as well as in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

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Ashtiani was sentenced to be stoned to death but this was postponed after an international outcry. However, a death sentence remains in place.

Ashtiani, 43, received 99 lashes from the Iranian judiciary for what was described as “an illicit relationship outside marriage”. The mother-of-two was then found guilty of adultery after a man was convicted of murdering her husband in 2006.

Ashtiani’s lawyer said that she confessed to the crime after being subjected to the lashing, adding that she later withdrew the confession and has maintained her innocence.

Iranian officials announced the execution would not be carried out by stoning amid international pressure but said the death sentence would remain in place pending a review of her case.

Human rights groups have warned that Ashtiani could still face hanging.

Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the judiciary head in East Azerbaijan province, said the execution would still take place, following a review of the case.

He said: “Although the verdict still stands and is definite, the execution has been halted on humanitarian grounds from the order of the honourable judiciary chief, and will not be implemented at this time.”

The movement to put pressure on Iranian authorities was started by Ashtiani’s children, who have been questioned by government officials and told not to speak to the media.

Campaign website www.freesakineh.org, has gathered more than 130,000 signatories, including politicians and celebrities such as Scottish author Ian McEwan and singer Annie Lennox.

Iran’s penal code places murder, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking as punishable by death, but adultery is the only crime for which stoning is the method of execution; it is described as an offence “against divine law”.

According to human rights group Amnesty International, at least six people have been stoned to death in Iran since 2006; 15 have been spared.

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