x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

TV film prepares to show woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran 'confess'

Iran faced renewed outrage over Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, as it prepared to parade her on state television last night while the rest of the world marked International Human Rights Day.

Iran faced renewed outrage over a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery as it prepared to parade her on state television last night while the rest of the world marked International Human Rights Day.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was expected to "confess" once again to complicity in her husband's murder and reenact the crime while cameras filmed her in her home in north-western Iran.

Advance publicity stills from the film had raised false hopes that the illiterate, 43-year-old mother of two had been freed. She was shown tearfully visiting her home for the first time since her imprisonment five years ago. But a prosecutor in Tabriz, Moussa Khalilohahi, insisted yesterday that a report she had been released was a "sheer lie".

A German-based human rights group declared on Thursday night that she had been freed after it interpreted the stills as reunion with her son, Sajad. He has been detained since September after campaigning on her behalf.

"This is the happiest day of my life," said Mina Ahadi, of the International Committee against Stoning, one of the first human rights groups to champion her cause. "I'm sure that this day will be written in Iranian history books, if not the world's, as a day of victory for human rights campaigners."

Thousands of joyful messages appeared on Twitter, while politicians and high-profile personalities around the world expressed relief. Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, hailed what he called a "great day for human rights".

But hopes that Iran had buckled under international pressure were crushed yesterday when an Iranian television station made clear she was still in jail. Far from depicting her release, Press TV, an English language channel, said its "documentary" - to be aired at midnight local time - would show a reconstruction of Ashtiani's alleged involvement in her husband's murder, for which she could be hanged.

Her home visit was solely for the purposes of the programme, which would "recount details of killing her husband at the crime scene".

Reports that the "confessed murderer" has been freed were the result of a misleading "publicity campaign by western media", Press TV claimed. The programme "will shed light on the highways and byways of the murder", it claimed.

In 2006, Ashtiani was convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she said was made under duress. She was also sentenced to a 10-year prison term for alleged complicity in her husband's murder.

After an international backlash this summer, the Iranian authorities suspended the stoning sentence for adultery - for which she had endured 99 lashes - pending a judicial review. But they revived the murder charge.

Their intention, human rights activists said, was to portray Ashtiani as a common murderer. The Iranian authorities hoped this would undermine her supporters abroad while tilting the focus away from the original stoning sentence, which European leaders have branded as "barbaric".

Iran has subjected Ashtiani to television interviews twice this year, where she made what her supporters insisted were forced confessions.

Iran accuses the West of manipulating Ashtiani's case to demonise the Islamic republic and pressure it over its nuclear programme.

As well as denouncing the West for interfering in its internal affairs, Tehran has deprived Ashtiani of legal representation. Her first lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, fled to Norway in July when Tehran issued a warrant for his arrest.

Her current lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, was arrested and jailed in September along with two German reporters who were conducting an interview with her son.

But, analysts said, any propaganda value the Iranian authorities hoped to garner from the latest Ashtiani "confession" will have been undermined by the confusion over her case during the past 24 hours. Amnesty International said it would condemn in "the strongest terms" any attempt to use the latest televised "confession" to construct a new case against Ashtiani for "a crime that she's already been tried and sentenced for".

 

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae