TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian state television has broadcast a purported statement by an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in which she calls herself a "sinner."
The stoning sentence against the 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been put on hold and is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court, but she still faces a possible death sentence by other means.
The outcry over the case is one of the latest thorns in Iran's relationship with the international community, as the U.S., EU and international human rights groups have urged Tehran to stay the execution.
A woman identified as Ashtiani said in the state TV report shown Monday: "I am a sinner." Her face was blurred and her words were voiced over in what the TV report said was a translation into Farsi from Azeri Turkish, which is spoken in parts of Iran.
The report also broadcast purported statements by two men whose faces were blurred that state TV identified as Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, and her lawyer, Houtan Kian, both of whom were arrested last month. It also aired comments from two Germans who were detained allegedly while trying to interview Ashtiani's family in October.
Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress. Ashtiani has also been convicted of involvement in the death of her husband, whom Iranian prosecutors say was murdered. She could still face execution by hanging in the two cases.
Her family and lawyer have said in the past that Ashtiani was tortured while in custody.
In the state TV report, Qaderzadeh retracted his previous allegations that his mother was tortured, and criticized Kian and Ashtiani's previous lawyer — who fled to Norway this summer — for publicizing the case.
"He (Kian) told me to say she (Ashtiani) was tortured," Qaderzadeh said. "Unfortunately, I listened to him and said lies to the foreign media."
"I'm full of regret. I think if I had not known the two lawyers ... the case would have gone through its normal course," Qaderzadeh said.
Kian said he advised Qaderzadeh to lie to Western journalists.
"Saying lies to foreign media was my recommendation," Kian said. "Of course, these were prudent lies."
The broadcast of the purported statements appeared to be an attempt by Tehran to deflect international criticism of the case and focus attention instead on the West by accusing it of stirring up controversy over the case to damage the reputation of Iran's Islamic leadership.
Iran has in the past accused a German-based Iranian anti-government group of arranging for Germans to interview Ashtiani's family. Many exiled Iranian opposition groups have offices in Germany.
State TV said the two German nationals, whom Iran has accused of being spies, confessed that they had been hired by a female activist in Germany to speak with Ashtiani's family.
One of the Germans said he intends to file a complaint against the activist once he returns to Germany, while second German said he had been deceived by her. The faces of both men were shown clearly in the footage.
A spokesman for Germany's Foreign Ministry said Monday the ministry is trying to verify the reports and to get more information on the matter. He declined to be named in line with German government policy.
The arrest of the two men — who the German Journalists' Association has only identified as a reporter and a photographer — suggests just how sensitive Tehran is over the case. Their detention will almost certainly elevate tensions between Iran and the West, already running high over suspicions about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
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.