IRAN: Woman sentenced to stoning death 'confesses' to assisting murder, slams her lawyer on state TV
A 43-year-old mother of two who recently was sentenced to death by stoning has admitted she was an accomplice to her husband's murderer, confessed to adultery, and posed stark criticism to her lawyer in an interview aired on Iranian state TV.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from the Tabriz area said that she had been involved in a romantic relationship with her husband's cousin and claimed the cousin was her husband's murderer.
It was in 2005 "that I started communicating with a man via telephone. He criticized my husband and said that he was not a true husband to me. He deceived me by his words and said let's kill my husband," she said in an interview on one of the main channels of state TV on Wednesday night.
Some leading Iranian legal experts, however, found Ashtiani's publicized TV appearance puzzling and cast serious doubt over the confession.
"Why now is she on TV, I ask?" Abulsamad Khorram-Shahi, the defense lawyer of several women sentenced to death by stoning, told Babylon & Beyond. "Why did she, the defendant, accept to have a lawyer and now is on TV to talk against him and accept that she deserves the punishment?"
An Iranian human-rights activist dismissed the whole show as an attempt to divert attention from the Islamic Republic's human rights record.
"The confession on TV aimed to reduce the important issue of human rights in Iran to sexual affairs and adultery and persuade public opinion that supporters of human rights, including the defense lawyer, are in fact supporters of perverts and killers and not decent people," Hamid B, told Babylon & Beyond.
It was not possible to determine the woman's identity, as Ashtiani's face had been blurred in the interview. As she spoke in her native Azari, her words were simultaneously dubbed into Farsi.
"I did not believe that my husband would be killed. I used to think that [the cousin] was joking. I was saying to myself that he was crazy," she said.
But she says she realized that the man was serious about eliminating her husband when he turned up one day at her house with intentions to kill Ashtiani's husband: "That day my mother-in-law was in our house. When I went to give her medicine, I realized that this man had come with all the required equipment. He had brought electric devices, wire and gloves. He then killed my husband by electrocuting him. He had asked me before to send my children to their grandmother's house," she said.
A judiciary official then appeared on the show to explain in detail Ashtiani's complicity in her husband's murder.
"The manner she killed her husband was that she anesthetized her husband by an injection. Then the main killer electrocuted him by connecting two electric wires to the neck of the victim. The murder scene was prepared in advance," the official said.
It was not immediately clear whether the cousin had been arrested. Ashtiani has previously been flogged 99 times for striking up romantic relationships with two men after her husband's death.
Her stoning sentence has drawn international outrage and has reportedly been suspended pending a review by the Iranian judiciary. But Iranian judicial officials have said that the sentence could still be implemented.
Following her alleged confession, there are now fears that her death is imminent, and media reports now say Ashtiani may be hanged instead of being stoned.
The show host said Western media had given Ashtiani's case attention in a bid to pressure the Islamic Republic to release three American hikers who have been in prison in Iran for more than a year.
Aside from her confession to a murder conspiracy and adultery, Ashtiani also staunchly criticized her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, who recently fled Iran. He is reportedly in Norway seeking asylum. While he served as Ashtiani's defense lawyer in Iran, some of Mostafaei's family members were said to have been detained.
"Why has he taken my case to the TV? Why has he disgraced me? Not all my relatives knew that I was in prison. Why did he do this to me? I tell Mostafaei that you have no damn right to disgrace me. I want to complain against him," she said.
Her lawyer's sudden flight has led some Iranian lawyers to suspect that he was an opportunist looking for a way of the country.
"Regarding her defense lawyer,I think he was misusing her client's case to seek asylum. I am afraid it is becoming a fashion to use a human-rights case to seek asylum or migrate to Western countries. It is becoming a business for some people," Iranian lawyer Dr. Naser Zarafshan told Babylon & Beyond.
He also expressed sympathy for Ashtiani, saying stoning for adultery is not an acceptable punishment.
"I sympathize with the ordeals of Sakineh. She might even have been even raped by her killed husband,"he said.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Credit: Facebook. Lower image: A member of the International Committee Against Stoning holds a placard showing the face of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Credit: Agence France-Presse