Iran backs off stoning threat: reports

A woman convicted of adultery in Iran will not be stoned to death, according to reports, though it is not yet clear if she still faces death by other means.

A woman convicted of adultery in Iran will not be stoned to death, according to reports, though it is not yet clear if she still faces death by other means.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was first convicted in May 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband — for which a court in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, sentenced her to 99 lashes.

She was later convicted of adultery, despite having retracted a confession that she claims was made under duress.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother of two, was facing the punishment of stoning to death in Iran on charges of adultery. ((Amnesty International/Associated Press))

The news drew international outrage after her lawyer's blog posts and comments from her children sparked an international campaign to save her life. British media reported late Thursday that the stoning would not occur.

The Iranian Embassy in London said the 43-year-old woman would no longer face death by stoning, according to Channel 4 News and the Guardian newspaper.

"According to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment," the embassy said in the statement reported by Channel 4 News and the Guardian.

Stoning is a "medieval punishment which has no role in the modern world," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters Thursday.

Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman and a number of celebrities including Salman Rushdie and Yoko Ono have already signed on to the campaign to stop the stoning, according to the Save Sakinah website.

Reisman, the CEO of Indigo Books & Music, read about the planned stoning Monday at 11 p.m. ET. 

"I reached out to some friends of mine in different places in North America and England in the hope that we could add our voices," she said.

"At some point we cannot, any of us, sit back as citizens."

The group then set up a website and urged people to join the campaign to stop the stoning, garnering thousands of signatures for an online petition.

"I've been told many times by dissidents, who I've had the opportunity to interview through Indigo, that the most important thing to those fighting inside regimes is to know that others in the world care," she told CBC News.

Children made plea

Ashstiani's children launched a campaign to save their mother, posting an open letter online.

"Today, when nearly all options have reached dead-ends, and our mother’s lawyer says that she is in a dangerous situation, we resort to you," an undated letter signed by Faride and Sajjad Mohammadi e Ashtiani says.

"To tell the truth, the term 'stoning' is so horrific that we try never to use it. We instead say our mother is in danger, she might be killed, and she deserves everyone’s help."

According to Human Rights Watch, adultery in Iran is punishable by 100 lashes for unmarried men and women, but married offenders are sentenced to death by stoning. A man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck, before being pelted with stones.

"Cases of adultery must be proven either by a repeated confession by the defendant or by the testimony of witnesses — four men or three men and two women," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Judges in crimes such as adultery are allowed to use their own "knowledge" to determine whether an accused is guilty in the absence of direct evidence, the human rights organization said.

During Ashstiani's second legal proceeding, three of the five judges who reviewed the case found her guilty based on their knowledge, Human Rights Watch said.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, Iran's judiciary chief at the time, issued a moratorium on stoning in 2002, the BBC reported, but reports from human rights organizations suggested the rare punishment continued.

In 2008, Iranian state media reported that Iran had suspended death by stoning. The last known stoning was carried out in 2008, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been meted out.

With files from The Associated Press