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Iran woman's stoning suspended after global outcry
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian authorities have suspended the execution by stoning of a woman convicted of adultery, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, after weeks of condemnation from around the world.
"The verdict regarding the extramarital affairs has stopped and it's being reviewed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran's state-run English-language Press TV.
The statement came a day after European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani "barbaric beyond words", the latest in a string of criticisms by foreign powers.
She was convicted of adultery -- a capital crime in the Islamic Republic -- in 2006. She also has been charged with involvement in her husband's murder.
In a live telephone interview, Mehmanparast said the murder charge was "being investigated for the final verdict to be issued".
Adultery is the only crime which carries the penalty of death by stoning under the sharia law which Iran adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution, a lawyer told Reuters.
The death penalty for murder in Iran is by hanging. The lawyer said Ashtiani might receive 15 years' jail if convicted of being an accomplice to murder.
At no point in the interview, which was in the Farsi language but was dubbed over by a simultaneous translation into English, did Mehmanparast mention "stoning", referring merely to Ashtiani's "death sentence".
"We think that this is a very normal case," he said. "This dossier looks likes many other dossiers that exist in other countries."
Human rights campaigners, intellectuals and politicians in Europe, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni, have taken up Ashtiani's cause.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a briefing on Wednesday: "Stoning is a barbaric and abhorrent act. We have joined with many, many voices around the world in condemning this prospective action by Iran. But ultimately this is in the hand of Iranian authorities".
Karim Lahidji, Paris-based president of the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights, told France 24 television: "We are very happy with the result of this campaign ... even though, to this day, no decision has been made in a court.
"As long as she is not freed, we really don't know if this case is definitely closed."
Mehmanparast blamed the United States for stirring the furore to hurt Iran's international image as it faces sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear programme.
"It looks like they are playing a political game," he said.
"This lady's case that is being followed ... is in direct connection and relation with the soft war that is being waged against Iran and the aim is to create a rift in relations between Iran, Brazil and Turkey."
Both Brazil and Turkey have worked diplomatically to try to solve the impasse over the nuclear programme which Iran says is entirely peaceful but which the United States and European countries suspect is aimed at making a bomb.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran may return to talks with global powers after the holy month of Ramadan which ends this week. Human rights campaigners had said they feared Ashtiani's execution could be carried out after Ramadan.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered asylum to Ashtiani, prompting an embarrassing public rejection of his offer by Iran which said he was a "humane and sensitive character" but was not in possession of all the facts.
According to Amnesty International, Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes. It put to death at least 346 people in 2008.
(Additional Reporting by Bate Felix in Paris; Editing by Michael Roddy and Paul Taylor)
(For more news visit Reuters India)
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