Iran to scrap death by stoning

Iran's judiciary has suspended stoning sentences against several convicts, converting some to jail time.

TEHRAN // Iran's judiciary has decided to scrap the punishment of stoning convicts to death in draft legislation submitted to parliament for approval, the local press reported today.

An Iranian rights group in July voiced concern at the fate of eight women and one man sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and urged the Islamic republic to halt their executions. The Volunteer Lawyers' Network, which represents the female convicts, said they were mostly from illiterate and underprivileged backgrounds and were condemned to death in the absence of a good defence. The EU has also said it was "deeply concerned" over the fate of the nine, but it was not known if they were among those whose lives have been spared.

"The implementation of stoning has been suspended for several people who have received this sentence," Mr Jamshidi said, without giving a number. "Two of them have been pardoned by the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and then sentenced to about 10 years in jail," he said. "And the verdict for two others has been changed to lashes," he said, adding that other cases were under discussion by the judiciary's clemency commission.

Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery has still been theoretically punishable by stoning. In the case of a man, this involves the public hurling stones at him as he is buried up to his waist. A woman is buried up to her shoulders. The Volunteers Lawyers' Network was able to save five women and a man from stoning in the past but it has complained that the punishment for adultery mostly targeted women, as polygamy is allowed for men under Iranian law.

A 2002 directive by judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi imposed a moratorium on such executions. And in January he issued a decree that public hangings should be "based on social necessities". However, in July 2007 the Islamic republic drew international outrage by stoning to death a man convicted of adultery, Jafar Kiani, in a village in the northwest of the country. Kiani's partner, Moharrameh Ebrahimi, who also faced being stoned to death, was freed however in March.

Jamshidi said the new bill is under discussion by parliament's legal commission to prepare a final version for MPs to vote on. Legislation is subject to final approval of the Guardians Council, which can veto bills adopted by parliament. Iran has so far hanged at 160 people this year, according to an AFP count. On July 27, Iran hanged 29 men convicted of offences including drug trafficking, murder and rape in the largest mass execution in years, drawing fire from rights groups.

Tehran insists that the death penalty is an deterrent carried out only after an exhaustive judicial process. Amnesty International reported that in 2007 Iran applied the death penalty more often than any other country apart from China, executing 317 people during the year. Capital offences in the Islamic republic include murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery. * AFP