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Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, Iran Stoning Death Woman, May Be Spared Execution, Lawyer Says

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BERLIN — The international outcry over the death sentence against an Iranian woman convicted of adultery might be enough to save her from execution, the lawyer who defended her told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. After international protests, Iran last month lifted the stoning sentence, but she could still face execution by hanging.

"The current situation is that the chief of the Iranian justice system has ordered the stoning not to be carried out," human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei told the AP during a visit to Berlin.

"I think currently, because of international reactions and because of the international attention, the Iranian justice and, more importantly, the Iranian government will not decide to follow through with the death penalty against Ms. Mohammadi Ashtiani," he said through an interpreter.

It would even be within the power of Iranian officials to set Ashtiani free, he said. Clemency was granted to seven other women he represented who had been sentenced to stoning, he said.

"The same is possible in the case of Mohammadi Ashtiani as well," Mostafaei said.

He said he publicized the case in a blog in June and talked to international media because he was not able to get anywhere in his efforts to have the sentence lifted or have Ashtiani granted clemency.

He recently fled Iran, however, after being questioned by the government about his efforts to have Ashtiani freed. He now lives in exile in Norway.

He spoke to the AP after a press conference by the German government's Human Rights Commissioner Markus Loening, human rights activist Bianca Jagger, and others who urged Tehran to lift Ashtiani's death sentence and abolish capital punishment altogether.

"The death penalty is not warranted for any reason," Loening said, adding that Tehran has recently stepped up pressure on the country's opposition and "it is a shame that in a civilized nation such as Iran human rights are trampled."

Jagger appealed the Iranian authorities to abolish the death penalty and to stop Ashtiani's execution.

"Her case is an egregious denial of justice," she said.

During the press conference, Jagger read an account of Ashtiani's case, saying that it was a year after Ashtiani's husband died in 2005 that his widow was first charged with adultery. In May 2006, a regional criminal court found Ashtiani guilty of "illicit relationships" with two men after her husband's death, Jagger said. Ashtiani was sentenced to flogging and received 99 lashes.

In September 2006, a man was tried and convicted of murdering Ashtiani's husband and she was found guilty of "disturbing the public order" and sent to prison for 10 years, Jagger said.

After that trial, a court reopened the adultery case and convicted her of "adultery during marriage." Ashtiani then was sentenced to death by stoning, she said.

Mostafaei said that the murder case has been thrown out and that in the court papers there was no evidence for an extramarital affair.

"But the fanatic judges by all means wanted to punish her," he said.

He told the AP that though he now lives abroad he will continue to try to help Ashtiani and other people whose human rights are violated in Iran.

"I will not tire in that," he said.

He added he does not expect his own family will be able to leave Iran very soon, but that "after some time" it will be possible for them to leave the country and join him abroad.