IRAN: Woman originally sentenced to death by stoning in adultery-murder case plays role in bizarre media play
The grim theater of the Sakineh Ashtiani case gets stranger by the day as rumors of a commuted sentence coincided with a press conference at which Ashtiani lashed out at the Western press and her own lawyers for attempting to "politicize" her case.
Ashtiani's position is precarious. Not only does she face death by hanging for adultery and conspiracy to commit murder, but her son is also now in the hands of the judiciary after he was arrested for giving an interview to two unaccredited German journalists.
"I have come in front of the cameras at my own will to talk to the world," Ashtiani reportedly said during Saturday's press conference, which was organized by Iranian judiciary officials in Tabriz, where Ashtiani is being held.
"I am willing to talk because many people exploited (the case) and said I have been tortured, which is a lie," she added. "Leave my case alone. Why do you disgrace me?"
Since becoming an international cause célèbre over the past year, Ashtiani has been cast as the suffering victim in the Western press and a scheming adulteress by Iranian state-run media, which have accused the foreign powers of using the case to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.
Initial reports claimed Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning, but Iranian officials later denied this and then suspended her death sentence. Since then, Iranian state television has aired taped confessions made by Ashtiani, which her lawyers and son claimed were made under duress.
It's possible that Ashtiani is hoping that by cooperating with the Iranian authorities she can save herself and her son. The case is still under review, and Ashtiani is fighting to have her sentence downgraded as her son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, also faces potential charges relating to the interview.
The two German journalists who conducted the interview were also arrested for entering Iran on tourist visas and interviewing Ghaderzadeh without the proper paperwork.
During the press conference, Sakineh blamed the Germans for "pretending to be journalists" and said she was preparing to sue them, along with one of her lawyers and another anti-stoning activist based in Germany. She also denied she had been tortured or maltreated in prison.
Meanwhile, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted judicial official Malek Ajdar Sharifi saying that "anything is possible" in response to a question about the possibility of commuting Ashtiani's sentence.
"There are some ambiguities in the evidence" which led to the prolonged review of her case, he added.
Ashtiani's press conference came just one day after a less-publicized sentence was carried out against four alleged gang members who were hung in the Zehadan prison in the southeastern Sistan Baluchestan province. The four had been accused of kidnapping, Fars News Agency reported.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, woman sentenced to death by stoning, and her son Sajjad Ghaderzadeh meet each other at in Tabriz in northwestern Iran. Credit: Reuters