Iran suspends execution sentence over outcry

Iran has suspended a sentence to hang a woman at the centre of a global outcry about stoning, a member of parliament was quoted as saying today.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's sentence to be stoned for adultery was suspended last year after condemnation from several governments, but she had still faced death by hanging for being an accomplice in her husband's murder.

In a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the head of parliament's human rights committee, Zohre Elahian, said the hanging, too, had been suspended due to pleas from her children.

"Although the stoning sentence has not been finalised yet, the hanging sentence has been suspended due to (her children's) pardon," the letter said, according to student news agency ISNA.

Ashtiani has been sentenced to 10 years' jail, Elahian said. She was arrested in 2006.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered Ashtiani asylum in July, prompting an embarrassing public rejection by Iran which said he was a "humane and sensitive character" but was not in possession of all the facts.

Brazil has warm ties with Iran and attempted to broker a nuclear deal last year which was rejected by the West.

Two reporters for German weekly Bild am Sonntag have been detained in Iran since October when they were arrested for interviewing Ashtiani's son without official permission, highlighting the sensitivity of the case.

Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, adultery may be punished by death by stoning and crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by hanging.

The case has further worsened relations between Iran and the West, already strained by the nuclear issue. Western countries fear Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, which it denies.

Amnesty International says Iran is the world's second most prolific executioner after China, putting to death at least 346 people in 2008.

The Iranian authorities dismiss allegations of rights abuses, saying they are following Islamic law.

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