Amnesty: Lawyer in Iranian stoning case missing

CAIRO—Amnesty International accused Iran of harassing the lawyer of a woman sentenced to death by stoning, saying Wednesday that he has gone missing and two of his relatives have been detained.

A blog maintained by the lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, helped generate a wave of international outrage over the stoning sentence, with Britain and the United States calling for it to be lifted.

Tehran said earlier this month that it would not carry out the stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for her conviction of adultery and other offenses.

Mostafaei—an outspoken lawyer who also has defended many juvenile offenders and political prisoners—was summoned for questioning by judicial officials at Tehran’s Evin prison on Saturday, released after several hours, then asked to return, Amnesty said, adding it was not known if he went back.

“Mostafaei’s whereabouts have been unknown since shortly after he was released from questioning by judicial officials last Saturday,” the London-based human rights group said.

It said Iranian authorities also had detained the lawyer’s wife, Fereshteh Halimi, and her brother, Farhad Halimi, later that day in a possible attempt to pressure Mostafaei to surrender if he wasn’t already detained. “They remain held and have been denied access to their lawyer,” according to the statement.

Mostafaei did not respond to calls to his cell phone, and family members could not immediately be reached for comment. Iranian authorities routinely refuse to discuss such issues.

The lawyer wrote on his blog after his release Saturday that he had been mainly questioned about his defense of juvenile offenders. He also wrote on his Facebook account: “It is possible they will arrest me,” according to Amnesty.

He and a number of other lawyers launched a campaign against the execution of juveniles in 2008, demanding that the punishment be abolished.

“Mohammad Mostafaei is a thorn in the side of the Iranian authorities and we fear that he is being persecuted in an attempt to stop him carrying out his professional activities as a defense lawyer and in support of human rights,” Amnesty official Malcolm Smart said.

Human Rights Watch, another advocacy group, has said 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. Later that year she was also convicted of adultery, despite having retracted a confession which she claims was made under duress.

Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic revolution, and even though Iran’s judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to other punishments.

The last known stoning was carried out in 2007, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been meted out.

Under Islamic rulings, a man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her chest with her hands also buried. Those carrying out the verdict then throw stones until the condemned dies.

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