European pressure mounts on Iran over stoning case

European Union nations and the continent’s biggest human rights organization slammed Iran on Wednesday for its plan to stone a woman convicted of adultery, while Iran’s ambassador to the Vatican said it “is possible” the punishment could be eased.

The plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, has cast a harsh light on Iran’s version of Islamic justice and caused a global outcry. Iran says it has put the stoning on hold for now but has also indicated Ashtiani could be hanged for her conviction of playing a role in her husband’s 2005 murder.

In an interview broadcast on Italian state TV Wednesday, Tehran’s envoy to the Holy See gave the strongest indication yet that Iran may set aside the death penalty — or at least the stoning — in Ashtiani’s case.

Ali Akbar Naseri stressed that Islamic law was “inspired by clemency and forgiveness.” Asked if that meant Ashtiani could receive clemency, he replied that “some mitigation of the punishment is possible” and said the case was under study by experts.

Though he did not elaborate, the comments also appeared to be a positive response to the Vatican’s hint that it would try behind-the-scenes diplomacy to spare Ashtiani’s life.