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Iran: Stoning Case Not Human Rights Issue

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Iran says foreign countries should not make the case of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery into a human rights issue.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that if releasing murderers is a human rights issue, then those nations should release all of their murderers from jail.

He said the case is still being reviewed, but friends and family of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani said Monday they feared authorities could carry out her execution soon.

The son of the 43-year-old widow and one of her lawyers said the moratorium on death sentences observed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will end this week. The Associated Press quoted the lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, as saying the stoning sentence could be carried out "any moment."

Faraz Sanei, with the Human Rights Watch, reacts to the Iranian government's actions:

Ashtiani's case has sparked international outrage.  European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Tuesday he was appalled to hear about the sentence, and said it is "barbaric beyond words."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday he was ready to do "whatever it takes," including traveling to Tehran, to save her.  He called the stoning sentence "the height of barbarism."

On Sunday, the Vatican raised the possibility of using behind-the-scene diplomacy to try to save her life.

Ashtiani remains under a death sentence and could be executed by other methods such as hanging.

She originally pleaded guilty in May 2006 to having an illicit relationship with two men following her husband's death, and received 99 lashes as punishment.  Four months later, when a separate court prosecuted one of the two men on charges of killing her husband, she was also convicted of "adultery while being married" - a charge she denies - and sentenced to death by stoning.

Earlier this month, Iranian state television aired what it said was a confession from Ashtiani that she had been an accomplice in her husband's murder and had committed adultery.  Ashtiani has since retracted the statement, which her attorney said was made under duress.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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