The Iranian government has reportedly put a hold on the sentence of stoning for an Azeri-Iranian woman who has been convicted of adultery. But the ultimate fate of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani remains unclear. Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the head of the judiciary in East Azerbaijan province, while accusing Ms. Ashtiani of "numerous and heavy offenses," told the Iranian state news agency that the stoning sentence "will not be implemented for the time being." Earlier, the Iranian embassy in London issued a statement saying the sentence had been rescinded.
Ms. Ashtiani was convicted of adultery in 2006 and endured 99 lashes as a punishment. According to Amnesty International, she subsequently retracted a so-called "confession" she had made during interrogation saying it had been made under duress. Her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, said her case was complicated by the fact that she speaks only Turkish, and not Persian. Mr. Mostafaei and Ms. Ashtiani's 2 children have been working to publicize her case.
Although Iran supposedly enacted a moratorium on stoning in 2002, human rights organizations say the practice has continued. In its most recent human rights report, the U.S. State Department notes that according to several sources 5 to 9 persons were at imminent risk for death by stoning in Iran at the end of 2009.
As the international community has become aware of the Ms. Ashtiani's plight, there has been an outcry from governments, human rights groups, and individuals decrying the practice. In a recent press briefing, U.S. State Department Acting Spokesman Mark Toner called stoning "tantamount to torture:"
"It's a barbaric and an abhorrent act. The recent United Nations General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran called specifically on Iranian authorities to end the practice of stoning."
Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which says that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The U.S. calls on the Iranian authorities to live up to their commitments. Acting State Department Spokesman Toner said, "We condemn in the strongest terms the use of the practice of stoning anywhere it occurs as a form of legalized death by torture."