The latest twist in the saga of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani comes about a year after Iranian media reported the death-by-stoning penalty had been “suspended” following appeals by foreign governments and human rights groups.
On Sunday, the head of the justice department in East Azerbaijan province, where Ashtiani is incarcerated, told the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency that Islamic experts had been instructed to investigate whether a prisoner convicted to death by stoning may be hanged instead.
“As soon as the result is obtained, we will carry out the sentence,” said Malek Ajdar Sharifi.
After Ashtiani’s husband was murdered in 2005, the mother of two was convicted of having an adulterous affair and was sentenced to death by stoning. She was also convicted of being an accessory to her husband’s murder and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for that offense.
News of her stoning sentence led to an international outcry, with the Vatican and European Union joining calls for clemency. Iran turned down an offer by then Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to grant her asylum.
Stoning to death is traditionally the punishment for adultery under Islamic law. A report last year by Iran Human Rights, a group of activists living outside the country, named 10 women and three men awaiting execution by stoning. It also cited seven cases between 2006 and 2009 in which the sentence was known to have been carried out, and said the actual numbers were believed to be higher.
According to the State Department’s international human rights report, Iranian women face discrimination even in the administration of the stoning sentence.
“The law provides that a victim of stoning is allowed to go free if he or she escapes,” the report said. “It is much harder for women to escape, as they are buried to their necks, whereas men are buried only to their waists.”
Iran in 2010 secured a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, the United Nations’ policy-making body devoted to gender equality and the advancement of women.