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    Ashtiani may now avoid execution and be set free

    see indications the Islamic Republic has decided to drop all efforts to execute her, either by stoning or hanging.

    The regime has said nothing about the case in many months.  And few expect it will say anything about the case in the future, especially if it decides to abandon efforts to execute her in the face of massive foreign opposition.  The regime cannot admit to caving in to foreign pressure.

    The regime said some time back that Ashtiani would not be stoned for adultery but was in line to be hanged for murdering her husband.  Many following the case expected the regime would just wait until everything quieted down and then hang her one day without advance announcement.

    But many within the regime are believed to have warned that any execution of her would set off any immense anti-Iranian fury around the world that would make it difficult if not impossible for Iran to achieve any of its foreign policy goals.

    The Times of London reported Tuesday that many of Ashtiani’s backers see indications—not proof—that the regime has given up on plans to kill Ashtiani and may even free her before long.

    The Times said those people believe Ashtiani is now serving only a 10-year sentence for being an accomplice to her husband’s murder, and could be freed within the foreseeable future, as she has been imprisoned since 2006.  Prisoners in Iran are eligible for release after serving one-third of their terms.

    The supporters attribute her survival to the massive international outcry over her plight.  Governments, human rights organizations and celebrities around the world condemned Iran’s “barbaric’’ and “inhuman’’ practice of stoning in general and rallied around Ashtiani in particular. Of a dozen other Iranians sentenced to death by stoning, none has been executed since the campaign on behalf of Ashtiani began.

    What started that campaign rolling was the decision of her son to chuck the normal reluctance in Iran to pubilcy discuss the humiliating charges the family faced and instead go public with an appeal to the world.  That appeal swiftly caught on.  And it may soon be crowned with success.

    Mohammed Mostafai, Ashtiani’s lawyer, who was forced into exile for publicizing her case but still has contacts inside Iran, told The Times, “From what I’m hearing, the stoning sentence has been lifted and she could be released on parole before finishing her prison sentence.’’

    Mina Ahadi, the German-based co-coordinator of the International Committee Against Stoning, which championed Ashtiani’s cause, said: “The Islamic regime has not officially said that the sentence has been overthrown, but that seems to be the effect.’’

    Amnesty International’s Iran specialist, Drewery Dyke, said he was not aware of the death sentence being lifted, but said: “I’m greatly encouraged that it has not been carried out. That suggests to me that there’s growing opposition within the judicial system to it ever being carried out.’’

    Ashtiani, 45, is an uneducated member of Iran’s Azerbaijani minority from Tabriz.  She does not speak Farsi.  She was arrested in 2006 following the murder of her husband.  Mostafai said her husband was a drug addict who repeatedly beat her and sought to sell her to friends for sex.

    She was sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.  Later she was convicted for complicity in her husband’s murder, although human rights activists say she was denied a fair trial by a system heavily weighted against women. Her alleged partner was convicted of the actual murder, but walked free after her children exercised their right to pardon him under Islamic law.  They could not pardon her, however.

    After the massive outpouring of foreign support for Ashtiani, the regime was clearly shaken and announced it had suspended the stoning sentence, while leaving open the possibility she could be hanged instead. The regime put her on television to make a series of “confessions’’ her supporters said were coerced.

    Mostafai was forced to flee to Norway after he gave interviews about his client to Western media outlets. Kian, who replaced Mostafai as her lawyer, was arrested while he was talking to two German journalists.  He is still in prison.

    The regime finally silenced Ashtiani’s son, Sajad Gha-derzadeh, 24, who did so much to alert the West to his mother’s imminent execution.  He remains in jail.  He may actually be in more bad odor with the regime than his mother since he is the person who has caused the regime infinite pain.

    Ashtiani remains in the Tabriz prison.

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