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Iran suspends hanging sentence in stoning case: MP

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has suspended a sentence to hang a woman at the center of a global outcry about a separate stoning sentence, a member of parliament was quoted Monday as saying, but another official suggested the comments were false.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, looks on during a meeting with her son Sajjad Ghaderzadeh at a provincial welfare organisation in Tabriz, 633 km (396 miles) northwest of Tehran, January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s sentence to be stoned for adultery was suspended last year after condemnation from a number of governments, but she had still faced death by hanging for being an accomplice in her husband’s murder.

In a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the head of parliament’s human rights committee, Zohre Elahian, said the hanging had also been suspended due to pleas from her children.

“Although the stoning sentence has not been finalized yet, the hanging sentence has been suspended due to (her children’s) pardon,” the letter said, according to student news agency ISNA.

Ashtiani, who was arrested in 2006, has been sentenced to 10 years’ jail, Elahian said.

Ashtiani’s son Sajjad Ghaderzadeh told foreign media early this month that she had violated Islamic law but called for compassion and forgiveness.

Later Monday a judicial official cast doubt on Elahian’s remarks. “No change or development has happened in the process of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case and publishing any news in this regard is false,” Malek Ajdar Sharifi, an official in the province where the case was heard, was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

“Her file is being investigated in the national supreme court and her final verdict has not been issued yet.”

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered Ashtiani asylum in July, prompting an embarrassing public rejection by Iran which said he was a “humane and sensitive character” but was not in possession of all the facts.

Brazil has warm relations with Iran and attempted to broker a deal over Iran’s nuclear program last year which was rejected by the West.

Two reporters for German newspaper Bild am Sonntag have been detained in Iran since October when they were arrested for interviewing Ashtiani’s son without official permission, highlighting the sensitivity of the case.

Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the 1979

revolution, adultery may be punished by death by stoning and crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by hanging.

The case has further worsened relations between Iran and the West, already strained by the nuclear issue. Western countries fear Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, which it denies.

Amnesty International says Iran is the world’s second most prolific executioner after China, putting to death at least 346 people in 2008. Iranian authorities dismiss allegations of rights abuses, saying they are following Islamic law.

Officials were not immediately available to comment on Ashtiani’s sentence

Reporting by Hossein Jaseb; Writing by Ramin Mostafavi; Editing by David Stamp