Iran scorns claims of freedom for Ashtiani

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The Independent Online

The Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning was taken home for a television reconstruction of a plot to murder her husband in 2006 and had not been freed, Iranian media said yesterday.

Human rights groups on Thursday celebrated what they saw as a reprieve for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, after photographs were released of her and her son Sajad Ghaderzade, who had also been arrested, at their home.

A statement on state-controlled television described reports of her release as a "publicity campaign by the Western media". It said that the images were from a documentary made in association with the Iranian judiciary in which the mother-of-two was taken to the house to describe her husband's murder.

In a statement, the channel Press TV, which acts as a mouthpiece for the Tehran regime, said that "contrary to a vast publicity campaign by Western media that confessed murderer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been released", she was still in custody.

"Press TV... arranged with Iran's judicial authorities to follow Ashtiani to her house to produce a visual recount of the crime at the murder scene."

The documentary is believed to show Ms Ashtiani guiding a camera crew around the home where she and an accomplice allegedly plotted to murder her husband in 2006. In a short video clip she is heard to say: "We planned to kill my husband."

Ms Ashtiani is also said to have been under pressure from the authorities to say the international community is using her against Iran and, in the film, she is expected to reiterate that: "They are taking my side unnecessarily, I do not consider them legitimate at all."

Ms Ashtiani was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death in 2006. She was later also convicted of murdering her husband although her alleged male partner was pardoned by her children under Islamic law and freed. Ms Ashtiani's sentence was subsequently reduced to complicity to murder and her sentence was reduced from ten to five years, but the authorities later revived the murder charge and some in the judiciary say that she should be hanged and convicted on that charge, even if international pressure leads to the stoning sentence being abandoned.

The images emerged a day after another Iranian woman, Khadijeh Jahed, also known as Shahla, was hanged after being found guilty of murder. Ms Jahed's sentence had also been the focus of international concern, and the decision to go ahead with the execution appeared to show that the regime was taking a hard line stance towards foreign pressures on human rights issues.

The International Anti-Stoning Committee, which had campaigned on behalf of Ms Ashtiani, insisted yesterday that they had received strong but unclear reports that she had been freed and was waiting for further confirmation from Tehran. After the photographs appeared Mina Ahadi, a spokeswoman for the group, declared: "This is the happiest day of my life.... This day will be written in Iranian history, if not the world's, as a day of victory for human rights campaigners."

Others who had spoken out against the stoning sentence, including the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, and Maureen Harper, the wife of the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, also welcomed the news saying "Iran has made a gesture of understanding and clemency we were hoping for..."