The lawyer defending a woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran says he has applied for asylum in Norway, but hopes Iranian authorities will allow him eventually to return home. Mohammad Mostafaei said yesterday he chose to flee to Norway after obtaining a one-year Norwegian travel visa.

He cited the Nordic country’s prominent human rights profile.  The 31-year-old said he fled to Turkey last week after learning Iranian officials intended to arrest him. He flew to Norway on Sunday after being detained briefly in Turkey over an undisclosed passport issue.

Mostafaei maintained a blog that sparked a worldwide campaign to free his client, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery. Last month, Iranian authorities said they would not carry out the stoning sentence for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for her conviction of adultery and other offences.

Mostafaei had also been representing Ebrahim Hamidi, an 18-year-old who is facing execution on charges of homosexuality. He is not gay.  While Mostafaei is applying for asylum, it’s unclear whether he will stay in Norway.  He said he hopes international pressure will force Tehran to let him return to his law practice.  “My greatest hope is that I can go back and continue my work in Iran. If the Iranian authorities will ensure my rights and safety, I’ll go back,” Mostafaei said.

“Right now, I’ve lost the ability to work on the behalf of my clients. That means I’ve lost everything. Without that, it doesn’t matter whether I’m in heaven or hell.”  Late last month, 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, released after several hours, then asked to return, which he did not do.

The same day, his wife, Fereshteh Halimi, and her brother, Farhad Halimi, were detained in a possible attempt to pressure Mostafaei to surrender if he wasn’t already detained.  The lawyer said he considered turning himself in but ultimately decided against it because “my wife would never forgive me”.  Mostafaei said a friend drove him last week from Tehran to Khoy, in northwestern Iran, about 30km from the Turkish border.

From there he made his way, by foot and on horseback, into Turkey, he said. Officials freed his wife on Sunday, Mostafaei said. He hoped she and their 7-year-old daughter would join him in Norway soon. He said once his wife arrived, they would decide if and for how long they would stay.