Rights groups report Iran stoning woman released

TEHRAN Thu Dec 9, 2010 5:36pm EST

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death for adultery, poses for a picture in the yard of her home in Oskou, 570 km (354 miles) northwest of Tehran in this image released on December 9, 2010. REUTERS/PRESS TV

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death for adultery, poses for a picture in the yard of her home in Oskou, 570 km (354 miles) northwest of Tehran in this image released on December 9, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/PRESS TV

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - A European human rights group said on Thursday an Iranian woman who had been sentenced to death by stoning had been freed, but there was no confirmation from Iran.

The International Committee Against Stoning, based in Germany, said it had heard from "sources in Iran" that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani had been freed.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini welcomed the "excellent news" although the ministry said the comment was based on the committee's report which it was trying to verify.

Ashtiani was sentenced to stoning for adultery -- the only crime which carries that penalty under Iran's Islamic law. Following an international outcry, officials said that sentence had been suspended but that she could still be hanged for complicity in her husband's murder.

Fuelling speculation of Ashtiani's freedom was a trailer broadcast on Iran's state-run English language Press TV advertising a program to be broadcast at midnight (2030 GMT) on Friday about Ashtiani. It did not indicate she had been freed.

Press TV also released photographs of Ashtiani and her adult son Sajjad Ghaderzadeh -- who has also been in detention since meeting German reporters in October -- which it said were taken ahead of an interview which will form part of the program.

In one picture they are holding hands and looking unsmilingly at each other. In another they stand in the yard of her home in Oskou, 570 km (354 miles) northwest of Tehran, again with neutral expressions. There was no indication of when the pictures were taken.

Press TV was not immediately available for comment and there was no word from Iranian officials.

Ashtiani has appeared on Iranian TV before. In an interview broadcast in August she described her relationship with the man who murdered her husband. Her words were voiced over in the main Iranian language Farsi as she speaks a regional dialect and her face was blurred.

The International Committee Against Stoning said on November 2 it had learned Ashtiani would be hanged the next day, but that did not happen.

Last month, the head of Iran's Council of Human Rights said he thought there was "a good chance that her life could be saved."

The case has worsened relations between Iran and the West, already seriously damaged by a dispute over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered asylum to Ashtiani in July, prompting a public rejection of his offer by Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the stoning sentence was a fabrication by a hostile foreign media.

(Reporting by Robin Pomeroy, additional reporting by Paul Carrel in Berlin and Lucy Hornby in Rome)

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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