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Attorney of Iranian Condemned to Be Stoned Faces Arrest

A boy signs a petition calling for an end to stoning during a demonstration by members of the International Committee Against Stoning in London, demanding the release of Sakineh Ashtiani, 24 Jul 2010

Iran has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for the attorney of Sakineh Ashtiani, whose stoning sentence has enraged many in the West. Iranian authorities apparently detained the wife and brother-in-law of attorney Mohammed Mostafaei, when they were unable to locate him.

Prominent Iranian attorney and champion of human-rights causes, Mohammad Mostafaei, has reportedly infuriated top judiciary officials by his defense of 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. Opposition websites say the judiciary issued an arrest warrant for him during the weekend.

Ashtiani's case became a cause-celebre in the West, after her children began a campaign to seek the cancellation of her sentence. Prominent celebrities and political figures signed an open letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei seeking her release.

Opposition website Rahesabz reported Sunday the wife and brother-in-law of attorney Mostafaei were detained when authorities were unable to find and arrest him. Mostafaei had been questioned several times in recent days over his defense of Ashtiani.

Mostafaei spent time in prison last year, after being arrested during the wave of unrest that followed Iran's disputed June 2009 presidential election. In recent years he has defended a number of Iranian men and women condemned to death by stoning.

He has also been active in the campaign to abolish the death penalty for juveniles who have committed their crimes while they were still under-age. He criticized such penalties in an interview with VOA's Persian News Network, last October.

He condemned the hanging of children for crimes committed when they were under 18, saying it is against international conventions. He also appealed to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani to reverse the sentences of death in a number of cases.

Former French Ambassador to Iran Francois Nicoullaud says that he believes Iranian officials are angry about the international campaign to reverse the stoning sentence against Sakineh Ashtiani and that they are lashing out at those whom they believe were behind it.

"The regime is furious about the international campaign around the case, and the success it had all around the world. And they are trying to punish all the people who have been active in this campaign abroad," he said.

Nicoullaud argues the Iranian judiciary may have been annoyed by the international campaign because they did not intend to stone Sakineh Ashtiani. He points out that Iran has adhered, for the most part, to a moratorium on stoning sentences since 2003.

"Since 2002-2003 there has been no judicial stoning, except in one case and in fact in 2002-2003 the regime agreed, upon pressure from the European Union and the diplomats represented in Tehran, I was part of them, to create a moratorium on stoning, and in fact they kept their word, except there was one case where there was a stoning," said Nicoullaud. "There was a couple, where a local judge condemned the couple to stoning and did not wait for confirmation by the head of the judiciary, because each condemnation to death in Iran has to be confirmed by the head of the judiciary."

Attorney Mohammad Mostafaei is one of the few prominent human-rights defenders still active inside Iran. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and award-winning rights activist Shadi Sadr were both forced to flee country in recent years.