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Iranian woman awaits death by stoning decision

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  • Chris King
    Iranian woman awaits death by stoning decision 1.00pm Thursday August 3, 2006 By Angus McDowall TEHRAN - The chief of Iran s judiciary will decide in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2006
      Iranian woman awaits death by stoning decision


      1.00pm Thursday August 3, 2006
      By Angus McDowall


      TEHRAN - The chief of Iran's judiciary will decide in the coming days whether to have a woman stoned to death for adultery in a case which has outraged human rights activists around the world.


      Ashraf Kalhori was sentenced to the punishment in 2002 after being convicted of having affair with her neighbour and conspiring with him to kill her husband.


      Judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi declared a moratorium on stoning in December 2002, but it remains on the statute books and his decision could be reversed at any time.


      Mrs Kalhori was taken from her prison cell last month and told by a special verdicts court that she would be executed within 15 days.


      After protests from her lawyer and international rights groups, Ayatollah Shahroudi is reviewing her case.


      Shadi Sadr, a renowned human rights lawyer representing Mrs Kalhouri, says she is optimistic, but the case demonstrates the psychological torture endured by women who face the penalty.


      At least eight other women in Iran were sentenced before the moratorium was called.


      There are also unconfirmed reports that a couple were stoned to death by revolutionary guardsmen in a cemetery in the eastern city of Mashhad last May.


      "We are campaigning to make Shahroudi's moratorium actually enacted in law," Mrs Sadr said.


      "While the law remains unchanged, cases of stoning can happen anywhere in the country despite Shahoudi's order because the head of the judiciary is not above the law."


      She points to irregularities in the trial and sentencing which could help Mrs Kalhori's case.


      Under sharia law, elements of which are incorporated into Iran's judicial code, an adulterer must confess four times in court.


      Mrs Kalhori confessed only once under police interrogation and later recanted.


      According to Mrs Sadr, Mrs Kalhori is a very religious woman, often fasting and praying.


      In the notorious Evin prison on the mountainous slopes of north Tehran she has been made responsible for distributing prayer stones among the other women prisoners.


      "She is distraught because she hasn't seen her four children since she was taken to prison," says Mrs Sadr.


      "She told me: 'My children are now growing up with hatred and disgust for their mother.'"


      Mrs Kalhori's husband Akbar Estiri was slain in April 2002 after quarrelling with their neighbour, Mahmoud Mirzaei.


      She says the killing was accidental but police say she was having an affair with Mr Mirzaei and encouraged him to kill her husband.


      The sentence of stoning is for adultery, but she was also given a 15-year prison stretch for her alleged part in the murder.


      Mrs Sadr says that if the stoning verdict is upheld it should not be implemented until after her prison term.


      Mr Mirzaei received 100 lashes instead of stoning for his adultery because he was unmarried, but was sentenced to death for the murder itself.


      However, this cannot be carried out for another nine years when the youngest of the Kalhori children turns 18 and can decide to take blood money instead.


      Human rights groups also say that issues such as stoning can divert attention from more widespread abuses for political crimes.


      Last week a student leader Akbar Mohammedi died after going on hunger strike in Evin prison.


      Liberal academic Ramin Jahanbegloo has been held without trial for several months.


      Rights groups say the incidence of such cases has increased sharply since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because officials feel more confident of imposing draconian sentences without government interference.


      They also point to an apparent strategy aimed at countering political opposition by relaxing social rules while cracking down on political dissent.


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