Laureen Harper asks Iranian president to block woman’s execution

TBILISI, GA.—Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday that no final decision has been made in the case of a woman who once faced death by stoning for an adultery conviction, despite reports her execution was imminent.

Iran has temporarily suspended the stoning verdict and has suggested the 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, might be hanged instead in the murder of her husband.

“Everyone has to be punished for murder,” Manouchehr Mottaki said at a news conference in Tbilisi. “The person has killed her husband and I think this fact will be considered as a crime in every country . . . But in this case the final decision has not been made yet.”

The case has further elevated tensions between Iran and the West, already running high over suspicions about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife Laureen and Indigo president Heather Reisman sent an open letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad calling for Ashtiani’s release.

They said they were “deeply troubled by the flagrant disregard of women’s rights in Iran” and said Ashtiani’s case “is an affront to any sense of moral or human decency.”

Ashtiani appeared on Iranian television confessing to both adultery and her husband’s murder. Her lawyer has said she was tortured beforehand.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Malek Ajdar Sharifi, a top local judiciary official, as saying Wednesday that Ashtiani was in good health in a prison in Tabriz, northwestern Iran.

Sharifi didn’t say if Ashtiani will be executed but said her case “is being investigated and is undergoing administrative procedures.”

He accused the media in the West for spreading false news about Ashtiani aimed at discrediting Iran.

The International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution said in a statement this week that Iranian authorities had given the go-ahead for Ashtiani’s execution, and that it could happen Wednesday. The group would not provide details on where its information came from.

But its report raised alarm in Western capitals. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was “deeply concerned” by the reports and “demands that Iran halt the execution and convert her sentence,” Ashton’s office said in a statement.

Ashtiani was first convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men after the death of her husband — for which a court in Tabriz 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.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has said Canada is concerned about the denial of due process and harassment.

“In Canada, women enjoy all the same rights, benefits and freedoms as men,” Harper and Reisman wrote.

“But with these rights also comes responsibilities; and as such we are morally obligated to speak out publically (sic) in defence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and indeed all women in Iran.”

They said freeing Ashtiani unconditionally would be seen around the world as “a deeply symbolic gesture toward the betterment of all Iranian women.”

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