Mohammed Javad Larijani, who heads Iran's top human rights body, is saying that the Iranian judiciary is "revising" the controversial verdict to impose a sentence of stoning on a 43-year-old woman convicted of adultery. The case has caused an international outcry, prompting prominent world figures to call on Iran's leaders to intervene to quash the sentence.
The intervention by Mohammed Larijani appears to have spared Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from a sentence of death by stoning, but it remains unclear if she will have to endure some other form of punishment.
Larijani, who is the brother of judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani and parliament speaker Ali Larijani, noted Friday that Ashtiani received two conflicting punishments from two different courts, forcing a "review" of her case.
Ashtiani had already received more than 90 lashes for the crime of "adultery" when another court imposed a new punishment of death by stoning. Larijani explained that his judiciary chief brother believes that a punishment other than stoning would be preferable.
The punishment has caused widespread international outrage, punctuated by public letters of protest to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as to judicial chief Sadegh Larijani. The exact fate of Ashtiani remains unclear.
What is a stoning sentence?
Ali Nourizadeh of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies says that stoning sentences had disappeared from Iranian jurisprudence for over 100 years when they were reinstituted by the Iranian government. He explains what a stoning sentence represents.
"They dig a hole and they put her in the hole and then they stone her, and they have to pick up stones which are not very small and not very big, so they don't want her to die, instantly, and they want her to suffer," explained Nourizadeh. "We haven't had stoning [in Iran] for perhaps 100 years, but after the Islamic Republic, they started, and in this particular case, I think the response of the international community was so strong it forced the Islamic Republic to stop stoning her."
Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who lives in exile in Paris, insists that the punishment of stoning does not exist, in either the Koran, or in the Iranian constitution.
He calls stoning an inhuman punishment and says that it is contrary to the principles of the Koran. He stresses that no such punishment exists in either the Koran or in Iran's constitution. He also argues that the Islamic Republic, like other totalitarian regimes before it, uses brutal punishments like stoning to maintain their dictatorships.
President Bani Sadr went on to point out that a prominent Iranian jurist once went to Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to tell him that the punishment of stoning does not exist in either the Koran or in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The Ayatollah, he explains, asked that the punishment be replaced by another, but that his decision was never implemented.