IRAN: Woman sentenced to death lashes out at activist, lawyers in TV 'confession'
On Monday, Iranian state TV aired what it says was a statement from Ashtiani in which she called herself a sinner and said she had been "deceived" by lawyers.
On Tuesday an Iranian court official revealed that two German journalists who allegedly tried to interview her son and her lawyer were facing espionage charges
"These two German citizens had come to Iran claiming to be tourists but their actions in Iran and in Tabriz, providing information and staging propaganda, indicates that they had come for spying," the head of East Azarbaijan provincial court, Malek Azhdar-Sharifi, was quoted as saying by Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency.
Taken together, the two developments suggest the extreme extent to which Tehran is willing to go over the Ashtiani case, which is proving to be a humiliating blemish on the Islamic Republic's already battered international image.
Like in previous broadcasts of her alleged confessions, Ashtiani's face was blurred in the footage. She made accusations that fit squarely with Iranian hardliners' constant refrain that Iran has a fine human-rights record, and that international concern over Ashtiani's fate is all part of some Western conspiracy to defame Iran.
The seven-minute interview marked the third time Ashtiani, or someone purporting to be her, appeared on television to confess her guilt. She was originally sentenced to death by stoning for having an extramarital romantic relationship, but Iranian authorities have recently sought to recast her as a murderer, saying she was complicit in her husband's killing five years ago. She is reportedly facing death by hanging now instead of stoning.
Some Iranian legal experts have found Ashtiani's previously publicized TV appearances puzzling and have cast serious doubt over her earlier confessions.
Ashtiani spoke in her native Azeri during the interview, subtitled in Persian.
"I didn't get anything from Hutan Kian," Ashtiani was quoted as saying in the report about her second lawyer, who became her defense lawyer after her first lawyer, Mohammad Mostafai, fled to Norway.
"He used to tell whoever he met in the prison, 'See what I've done for Mrs. Ashtiani? I'll do the same for you!' He lied to me. He used to say, 'Have you seen Ashtiani on TV? It's all because of me,'" she continued.
Kian himself was arrested last month along with Ashtiani's 22-year-old son while hosting the two German reporters at his offices in Tabriz. He had claimed that Ashtiani was badly beaten and tortured before a previous TV appearance.
In the television interview, Ashtiani lashed out at the Germany-based Iranian communist activist Mira Ahadi, accusing her of publicizing her case around the world.
The report also featured alleged statements by several other men, some of whose faces also had been blurred beyond recognition. Two of them were identified as Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Ghaderzade, and Kian. They both confessed to giving false statements to foreign media about Ashtiani's case. The other two men brought on air were said to be Germans citizens arrested in Iran last month while attempting to interview Ghaderzade, who claimed they had been deceived by Ahadi.
At one point in the report, the presenter began speaking about international reactions to Ashtiani's case and described them as a "propaganda war against Iran". A voice-over in Persian said Ahadi, the figurehead of the International Committee Against Stoning (ICAS), was trying to "take advantage" of Ashtiani's case for her own benefit.
"I committed a sin," she said.
When the turn came for the man said to be Ghaderzadeh, he slammed Ashtiani's lawyers and accused them of using his mother's case to obtain political asylum abroad.
"In my opinion we do not have any respect anymore because of Mr. Mostafai," he said. "He ran away and sought a political asylum. Hutan Kian wanted to do the same as Mostafai but fortunately it didn't happen and he was stopped. He wanted us to talk to foreign media to make the case more sensitive, but it just got worse."
Earlier this year, Ghaderzade conducted a lengthy interview with a Swedish-Iranian journalist for a Swedish tabloid newspaper. During their secret meeting in a park in Tabriz, he told the reporter he is convinced that his mother is innocent and didn't have an illicit romantic relationship with the man accused of murdering his father. At the time, he also raised worries over potential repercussions for speaking to foreign media about his mother's case.
But he took it all back in his statement on Monday, saying everything he had told foreign media was "a lie."
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos: Demonstrators hold a placard with Ashtiani's photo at a recent protest in Rome in support of her. Credit: Agence France Presse / Getty Images. Lower image: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Credit: Facebook.