PARIS An Iranian woman accused of adultery will not be executed on Wednesday, France's foreign minister said, citing a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart.
German-based human rights group the International Committee against Stoning said on Tuesday Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would be hanged on Wednesday instead of stoned, although Iranian authorities have declined to comment on the issue.
Ashtiani's stoning sentence was suspended earlier this year after prominent political and religious figures called it medieval, barbaric and brutal. Brazil, a close ally of Iran, offered to give the 43-year-old mother of two asylum.
"Manouchehr Mottaki assured me that Iranian legal authorities had not yet reached a verdict in the affair relating to (Ashtiani) and that the information regarding her alleged execution did not correspond to reality," Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.
He added he had spoken to Mottaki on Wednesday morning asking him to renounce the execution and grant her a pardon.
Later on Wednesday, Mottaki's spokesman said the West was using the issue to beat Iran which it was already pressuring over its nuclear programme.
"They have become so shameless as to turn the case of Sakineh Mohammadi, who has committed both crime and betrayal, into a human rights case against our nation," Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the students news agency ISNA.
"The other side is only looking for an excuse to confront the Islamic establishment in Iran," he told the official news agency IRNA, adding that if Iran backed down on some issues, the West would keep the pressure on "and there will be nothing left of the revolution or establishment."
CASE WORSENS RELATIONS
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fended off questions about the case from reporters at the U.N. General Assembly in September, saying in one interview that the stoning sentence had been fabricated by hostile Western media and called the United States hypocritical for its record on executions.
Mehmanparast said in September Ashtiani's adultery conviction was under review but the charge of being complicit in the murder of her husband was still pending.
Under the Islamic law in force since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, murder is punishable by hanging and adultery by stoning.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Iranian authorities against going ahead with the punishment, saying it would hurt Iran's international relations.
"This is a barbaric punishment and it will damage Iran in the eyes of the world. It will be much better not to proceed with it," Hague told reporters.
The case has worsened relations between Iran and the West, which are locked in a dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme, and was complicated when two Germans were arrested in Iran last month while conducting an interview with Ashtiani's son. They remain in custody.
Brazil's president-elect Dilma Rousseff said on Wednesday she was "radically against" the stoning sentence. "Even when you consider the practices and customs of other countries, the stoning of Sakineh continues to be barbaric."
According to Amnesty International, Iran is second only to China in the number of executions it carries out. It put to death at least 346 people in 2008.
"I urge the Iranian authorities to listen immediately to the demands of the international community and respect the international commitments to which Iran adheres," Kouchner said.
(Reporting by John Irish and Vicky Buffery in Paris; Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Hossein Jaseb in Tehran; editing by Diana Abdallah)