The stoning sentence of a woman convicted of adultery and murder has been put “on hold,” according to a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
While Iranian authorities made similar comments prior to the latest, Ramin Mehmanparast’s remarks to the state-run Press TV on Wednesday indicate that the fate of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still being determined.
"The sentencing of Ms. Ashtiani for adultery has been stopped and [her case] is being reviewed again, and her sentencing for complicity in murder is in process," Mehmanparast said.
But the ministry spokesman also advised against turning Ashtiani’s case into a human rights issue.
"Defending a person on trial for murder should not be turned into a human rights matter," Mehmanparast said.
Four years ago, Ashtiani was convicted of adultery after having pled guilty to the crime of "illicit relationship" with two men, though the incident occurred after the death of her husband. The mother of two later retracted her confession to the crime, claiming it was made under duress and that she doesn't speak Persian, but instead only Azeri, an Azerbaijani language more closely related to Turkish.
And while she admits to knowing about the plot to kill her husband, Ashtiani says she did not take it seriously at the time.
“[W]hen he (the cousin of Ashtiani’s husband) said we should kill my husband, I couldn't even believe him or that my husband would die, I thought he was joking, that he had lost his mind,” she told the U.K.-based Guardian last month.
Despite her claims, the Iranian supreme court confirmed her death sentence in May 2007 but left open the possibility of execution by another method.
And this past July, Iranian authorities said they would not carry out the stoning sentence for the time being, but Ashtiani could still face execution by hanging for adultery and other offenses.
On Sunday, a Vatican spokesman said “the Holy See is following the situation [in Iran] with attention and participation.”
"When the Holy See is asked, in an appropriate way, to intervene in humanitarian issues with the authorities of other countries, as it has happened many times in the past, it does so not in a public way, but through its own diplomatic channels," the director of the Vatican's press office, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in the statement.
Lombardi also noted the Church's general opposition to the death penalty, adding that "stoning is a particularly brutal form [of it]."
As an attempt by Brazil – which has friendly relations with Iran – to offer Ashtiani asylum was rebuffed, it is unclear what chances the Vatican might have in persuading the Muslim nation to spare the woman's life.
According to reports, Iran has said that Ashtiani’s sentence is not because of adultery but complicity in her husband's death.
Malek Ejdar Sharifi, head of East Azerbaijan Province's judiciary, said she was sentenced to capital punishment "for committing murder, manslaughter and adultery."