Iranian woman sentenced to death 'could be hanged today'

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The Independent Online

Supporters of an Iranian woman facing the death penalty for adultery say that the sentence could be carried out as early as today, after her prison received authorisation to execute her.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was first sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery in 2006, has become the focus of an international campaign to save her from execution.

The International Committee against Executions said that the probablity of Sakineh's execution is now "very high" after an instruction for her hanging was sent to her prison in Tabriz.

Ms Ashtiani, 43, has been accused of adultery and complicity in her husband's murder and has already received 99 lashes. Her case has been marked by a number of confessions by her, which she has later retracted, saying they were coerced.

In August she appeared on state-run television and said that she had participated in the murder of her husband in 2005. Her supporters denounced her appearance as an attempt by the Iranian authorities to discredit her, following protests at her sentence to death by stoning.

Her lawyer in Tabriz, Javid Houtan Kian, was arrested along with her son, Sajad Ghaderzade, and two German journalists in October. The original sentence of death by stoning was changed to one of hanging under international pressure. The Iranian government sees the case as part of an attempt to isolate and discredit Iran.

The affair has a complicated origin beginning with the death of Ms Ashtiani's husband in 2005. The following year, a court in East Azerbaijan sentenced her to flogging for having an illicit relationship with two men. At the same time a man referred to as "Isa T" was tried for the murder of her husband and she was put on trial for conspiracy to murder.

Alistair Burt, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said:"I am deeply disturbed by suggestions that Sakineh Ashtiani could be executed imminently. The British Government has been following her case closely. "We have repeatedly called for a stay of execution and a fair and transparent review of her sentence – any move to execute her would be utterly unacceptable and would be condemned widely and in the strongest terms. The world watches and waits."