Iran reprieves adulterers from stoning
The planned stoning of a couple accused of adultery in Iran has been staved off.
TEHRAN -- Iran's judiciary has halted the stoning to death of a man and a woman convicted of adultery, just two days before the sentences were to be carried out, the Fars news agency reported Wednesday.
A report in the Etemad-e Melli daily and women's rights activists said that the two were to be stoned Thursday morning in a cemetery in the town of Takestan in the northern province of Qazvin.
"On the order of Qazvin justice chief, based on the directive of the Iranian judiciary head, the stoning verdict of two people was stopped in Takestan," a judiciary official in Qazvin, Hassan Ghasemi, told the semi-official agency.
An informed judiciary source also told Fars that late Tuesday night the "Qazvin judiciary chief had given a verbal order for the executions to be stopped."
According to the source, the executions were so near that "the required plans to carry out the verdict were made." Further details were not given on what preparations were carried out.
Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is still theoretically punishable by stoning. In late 2002, judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi issued a directive suspending the practice.
This was at a time when the European Union was making such a moratorium and other human rights reforms a condition for opening landmark trade negotiations with Iran.
The halting of the two executions appears in line with the judiciary's insistence that stonings are no longer carried out, even if such sentences are still handed out by lower courts.
All execution orders must be upheld by the supreme court.
The announcement of the decision to halt the execution must be contextualized in previous declarations by the court that stoning was officially banned while human rights organizations regularly accused the Iranian government of carrying out these acts.
The judiciary vehemently denies that any stonings have been carried out since 2002, although rights activists and press reports have on occasion claimed that verdicts have been executed.
A group of women's rights activists headed by feminist lawyer Shadi Sadr have meanwhile been campaigning to have the sentence wholly removed from the statute books.
Under the punishment of stoning, a male convict is buried up to his waist with his hands tied behind his back, while a female offender is buried up to her neck with her hands also buried.
The spectators and officials attending the public execution start throwing stones and rocks at the convict, who is theoretically released if he is able to free himself.
In the face of cencorship and total control over the media, it is still difficult to know what exactly is happening in Iran and the fate of this couple.