TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian authorities have arrested two foreigners as they were interviewing the son of a woman who could face death by stoning on an adultery conviction, the state news agency reported Monday.
Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said the two had entered the country on tourist visas and did not have documents to prove they were journalists. They were arrested while interviewing the son of 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose stoning sentence has generated international outrage. The spokesman's comments were carried on the official IRNA news agency.
The whereabouts of Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, were not immediately known and his cell phone was switched off, raising questions about whether he may have been arrested. The cell phone of his mother's lawyer, Houtan Kian, was also switched off.
Ejehi did not identify the two foreigners or their nationalities. He said a person who was present during the interview alerted the authorities that led to the arrests, but he did not say who it was.
Iran has temporarily suspended the controversial stoning verdict against Ashtiani under international pressure, but says no definite decision has yet been made about her case.
Ashtiani was first convicted in May 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband — for which a court in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, sentenced her to 99 lashes. Later that year she was also convicted of adultery, despite having retracted a confession which she claims was made under duress. She was sentenced to death by stoning for the adultery conviction.
Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic revolution, and even though Iran's judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to other punishments. The last known stoning was carried out in 2007, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been meted out.
Under Islamic rulings, a man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her chest with her hands also buried. Those carrying out the verdict then throw stones until the condemned dies.