TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian woman sentenced to stoning has not been freed, a prosecutor said Friday, calling a rumour of her release that brought short-lived joy to sympathisers around the world a “lie.”
“Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is in detention and any news based on her release from the Tabriz prison is a sheer lie,” Moussa Khalilolahi, prosecutor in the city of Tabriz, northwestern Iran, told the official IRNA news agency.
“No change has been made to her legal status ... The file is following its normal and legal procedures,” he said.
Ashtiani’s sentence to be stoned for adultery — the only crime which carries that penalty under Iran’s Islamic sharia law — was suspended after an international outcry by both Western countries and some others that have warm relations with Iran.
The European Union called it “barbaric,” the Vatican pleaded for clemency and Brazil, which has tried to intervene in Iran’s standoff with the West over its nuclear program, offered Ashtiani asylum.
She still faces possible execution by hanging for complicity in the murder of her husband.
Talk of Ashtiani’s release appears to have been sparked by photographs of her at home released to the international media Thursday by state-run Press TV ahead of an interview with her to be broadcast later Friday.
Rumours spread quickly on the Internet, with thousands of joyful messages appearing on the Twitter website after the International Committee Against Stoning, based in Germany, said “sources in Iran” had word of her freedom.
But Press TV later said that instead of showing her freedom, its documentary shows Ashtiani at home describing the murder of her husband. The program will be aired at midnight (8:30 p.m. British time) Friday.
“Press TV ... arranged with Iran’s judicial authorities to follow Ashtiani to her house to produce a visual recount of the crime at the murder scene,” it said on its website.
Press TV said Ashtiani had confessed and been found guilty of murdering her husband in collusion with her lover.
The Ashtiani case has further strained relations with the West as Tehran has come under tightened sanctions aimed at pressuring it to curb its atomic activities which some countries believe are aimed at building nuclear weapons.
Tehran says international media have manipulated the story to demonise the Islamic Republic. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly denied Ashtiani was ever sentenced to stoning, contradicting other Iranian officials.
In October, two German reporters were arrested as they tried to interview Ashtiani’s adult son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh.
Berlin has appealed for the release of the Bild am Sonntag reporters, who government officials said entered on tourist visas and so had no right to work as journalists under Iran’s strict media controls.
Germany, along with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, resumed talks with Tehran this week, seeking reassurances its nuclear activities will not lead it to acquire atomic weapons.
While Iranian officials say Ashtiani’s case is purely a matter for the judiciary, it has become an international political cause and the head of Iran’s Council of Human Rights said last month there was “a good chance that her life could be saved.”
The fate of the German reporters may also prove a political-diplomatic matter. A spokesman said the government was considering a request to release them over Christmas, something which would send a goodwill message to Berlin.
Editing by Mark Heinrich