Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman condemned to death by stoning, has allegedly confessed to adultery and involvement in the killing of her husband on Iranian television. Many Iran analysts, however, are skeptical at the new twist.
Ashtiani was first convicted in May 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the death of her husband and was sentenced to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she said was made under duress. Ashtiani also has been convicted of involvement in the death of her husband, whom Iranian prosecutors say was murdered.
Last month, Iran suspended the stoning sentence temporarily after international outrage over the brutality of the punishment. But an Iranian TV broadcast Ashtiani's alleged confession late Wednesday, in which she admitted to a sexual affair. She described in her native Azeri dialect, which was translated in Farsi, how she and her lover killed her husband.
Ashtiani said she had an affair with a man who was her cousin and who made many promises to her before then killing her husband. She added that he came to her home with everything needed for the murder, including electrical wire. She noted that when she was in prison, she learned he had killed several other people.
The woman in the interview had much of her face covered by a wide, black veil. And Iranian television blurred most of her image, making it impossible to verify the woman's identity.
Iran's Channel 2 broadcast the interview as part of a documentary it says was meant to "debunk Western media propaganda." The program ridiculed Western TV networks for coming to the Ashtiani's defense. Iranian TV also interviewed Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the judiciary chief of Azerbaijan province, who made the case for Ashtiani's guilt.
Sharifi said that Ashtiani injected something into her husband to make him lose consciousness before her lover electrocuted him. Sharifi argued that the act was premeditated because Ashtiani sent her children to her mother's house before the murder.
The International Committee Against Stoning condemned the documentary, calling it propaganda. Iran analysts said it follows a pattern of forced confessions.
Ali Nourizadeh of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London notes that Ashtiani had insisted previously that Iranian authorities coerced her into confessing.
"She's not in a position to be able to speak freely," said Nourizadeh. "Therefore, whatever is dictated to her, she's going to repeat. There is also a confession - a full confession - of adultery and participation in the killing of her husband taken from her in prison, when she was arrested. But she later denied that this confession is true."
Nourizadeh adds that Iranian TV tried to ridicule Ashtiani's attorney, Mohammad Mostafaei, who recently has sought refuge outside of Iran, after coming under pressure for his defense of civil rights cases in Iran.
Political scientist Houchang Hassan-Yari, of the Royal Military College of Canada, says the most unbelievable part of the TV interview was that Ashtiani asked to be stoned after allegedly confessing her guilt.
"She actually asked to be stoned by saying she had to be stoned because of what she did," said Hassan-Yari. "Also, she had to attack her lawyer by saying that he's a traitor - he did not defend her case, but he was tarnishing the image of the Islamic Republic."
Stoning was widely imposed in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Even though the country's judiciary regularly hands down such sentences, they often are commuted to other punishments. The last known stoning in Iran was carried out in 2007, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been enforced.