New confession by woman in stoning case aired

TEHRAN – An Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery confessed to helping a man kill her husband and re-enacted the alleged crime in an interview broadcast Friday by Iranian state television – an apparent effort by the government to deflect international criticism over the case.

It was the fourth time Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani has been shown on TV as Tehran has faced an international outcry over the announcement that she would be stoned to death, the latest source of friction between Iran and the West.

Authorities announced her conviction in the murder case only after the uproar over the stoning sentence erupted last summer, and her lawyer – who has since been arrested – said she was never formally put on trial for the killing and was tortured into confessing. Iranian authorities could use the murder charge to justify executing Ashtiani by hanging instead of stoning.

In the new footage broadcast on English-language Press TV, the 43-year-old mother of two was brought from the prison to her home outside the city of Tabriz in northwestern Iran where she was shown acting out the alleged December 2005 killing, complete with an actor portraying her husband.

Ashtiani, dressed in black with a beige scarf covering her hair, described how she began an affair with another man identified as Isa Taheri. She said she gave her husband an injection that rendered him unconscious, then Taheri came to her house and electrocuted him.

Amnesty International criticized the broadcast, which was announced by Press TV earlier Friday, saying it violated international standards for a fair trial by having Ashtiani implicate herself in a crime.

“If the authorities are seeking to use this ‘confession’ to try to construct a new case against her, for a crime that she’s already been tried and sentenced for, we would condemn this in the strongest terms,” Philip Luther, deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program, said in a statement.

Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.

After coming under intense demands from Western politicians and rights groups to free Ashtiani, Iran put her stoning sentence for adultery on hold in July for review by the supreme court. It wasn’t until more than a month later that her purported confession to involvement in the murder was aired and Iranian officials announced she had been convicted.

In the footage, Ashtiani said Taheri tied a wire to her husband’s foot and another to his waist – events that were simulated for the broadcast – but it took seven tries for him to die. “The seventh time my husband didn’t move. He died,” she said.

The program, which was accompanied by a warning to viewers, showed close-up stll photographs of the husband’s corpse, which appeared burnt.

The re-enactment was part of a half-hour news program about the case, which included interviews with her son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, and her lawyer Houtan Kian, who also have been arrested. Press TV said two German journalists who were detained after trying to interview Ashtiani’s family had declined to answer questions for the program.

The program’s narrator said a police report showed Ashtiani had confessed to being involved in the murder of her husband and named Taheri as her accomplice. Police arrested Taheri in connection with the murder, and he also admitted the charge, according to the show.

A German-based Iranian anti-stoning activist named Mina Ahadi claimed Ashtiani had been forced to make the confession, calling it propaganda. “It was all a total lie,” she said, speaking from London in a telephone interview.

Ashtiani gave similar details in her previous confession on Aug. 12. She also was shown in two other appearances on state TV saying on Sept. 15 that she hadn’t been tortured and on Nov. 15 that she was a sinner. But this was the first time she was shown in the house where the killing occurred.

It also was the first time Ashtiani’s face was shown. In previous video of her aired on state TV, her face was blurred. The only previous image of her face was an undated picture released by Western human rights groups that seems to be an ID photo, showing a younger-looking Ashtiani with a black headscarf.

Iran has waged a heavy public campaign aimed at countering international criticism, accusing the West of stirring up controversy to damage the country’s Islamic clerical leadership at a time of tension over the country’s disputed nuclear program.

Amnesty International researcher Drewery Dyke said the program left him with “the fear the authorities are in the process of constructing the climate in which a new charge can be brought,” and he criticized the decision to have Ashtiani re-enact the crime on camera.

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.

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