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Pope monitoring Iranian woman sentenced to stoning death, Vatican says

By the CNN Wire Staff
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning after she was convicted of adultery.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning after she was convicted of adultery.
  • NEW: Italy is leading the case for clemency for the woman, news agency reports
  • Pope Benedict XVI is closely monitoring the case, the Vatican said Sunday
  • The pope would intervene through diplomatic channels and not publicly, the Vatican said
  • The woman was convicted of adultery but Iran says a final verdict has not been reached

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI is monitoring the case of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning and has not ruled out getting involved through diplomatic channels, the Vatican said Sunday.

As he has in the past in humanitarian cases, the pope would intervene if asked by authorities in another country and would do so through proper diplomatic channels, not publicly, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

"The Holy See is following the case with attention and participation," Lombardi said. "The position of the church, which is opposed to the death penalty, is that stoning is a particularly brutal form."

According to Italy's official news agency ANSA, the Italian government is leading the case for clemency for the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Video: Iranian woman denounces lawyer
Video: Awaiting method of execution
Video: Sentenced to be stoned
  • Iran
  • Vatican

Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning after she was convicted of adultery. Iranian judicial authorities say a final verdict in her case has not yet been made, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported recently. In July, Iran's judiciary said the case was under review.

A large photo of Ashtiani has been hung outside Italy's Equal Opportunities Ministry to draw attention to her plight, ANSA reported.

"'This unprecedented act aims to mobilize opinion and contribute to saving Sakineh from a brutal, unacceptable sentence,'' Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna said in a joint statement, according to ANSA.

Italy's Foreign Ministry told ANSA that it is pursuing clemency for Ashtiani through diplomatic channels.

''The case is being followed closely by the foreign ministry and personally by Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who has given instructions for close bilateral relations to be maintained with the Iranian authorities so that they consider clemency in this specific case,'' a recent ministry statement said.

Italy is one of Iran's most important trade partners in the European Union, with bilateral trade exceeding $8 billion in 2009, according to a report on the website of the Iranian-Italian Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, Ashtiani also faces a sentence of 99 lashes because of a photograph in a newspaper, but opponents of the execution say it is a case of mistaken identity.

Iranian authorities imposed the sentence after they saw the photo of a woman without a head scarf in the newspaper, said the International Committee Against Stoning, a human rights group.

In an apology, The Times of London, which ran the photo on its front page August 28, said the woman was wrongly identified as Ashtiani.

The Times said the photo actually is of Susan Hejrat, a political activist living in Sweden.

Iranian law requies all women, regardless of their faith, to wear garments that cover their hair and bodies.

According to the Times, one of Ashtiani's former lawyers, Mohammed Mostafaei, gave the paper the photo.

Mostafaei told CNN on Saturday that he still thinks the photo may be of his former client.

The Times reported that Mostafaei said Ashtiani's 22-year-old son had e-mailed the lawyer two photographs three months ago and told him both were of his mother.

"One was the widely used picture of Ms. Ashtiani with her face obscured by a chador [cloak], and the other was the one used by The Times ... That showed the full face of a woman," The Times said in a statement Friday.

Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, wrote in an open letter that another lawyer sent the newspaper an authentic photo of his mother, but that it did not appear in the Times article. The letter was circulated by the International Committee Against Stoning on Friday.

"We do not know how that picture was originally obtained, nor to whom the picture belongs," Ghaderzadeh said in the letter.

"My mother has been called in to see the judge in charge of prison misdemeanors and he has sentenced our helpless mother to 99 lashes on false charges of spreading corruption and indecency by disseminating this picture of a woman presumed to be her [Sakineh] without hijab," he wrote.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran did not answer a CNN telephone call early Sunday morning.

The Committee Against Stoning said Friday "it is Mr. Mostafaei's responsibility to provide an explanation as to why he has disseminated [a] counterfeit photo and information regarding Sakineh's case; his action has only led to increased pressure on Sakineh and her family."

"We strongly condemn this barbaric new sentence of 99 lashes imposed by the Islamic Republic against Sakineh and we demand that this sentence be abandoned immediately," the committee said.

Mostafaei told CNN that Ghaderzadeh three months ago gave him two photos -- one of Ashtiani wearing a hijab (covering) and one without it.

The lawyer said he immediately released the photo of Ashtiani wearing the chador and sent the Times the photo of her without the hijab more recently.

Asked about whether the photo printed by the Times is of Ashtiani, Mostafaei said, "In my opinion it is Ms. Ashtiani. It was given to me by her own son. If it is not indeed her, it looked just like her. She was wearing religious clothes in the photo. She had the same face, same everything."

Ashtiani, who is being held in Tabriz, Iran, no longer has visitation rights, the family told CNN.

CNN's Mitra Mobasherat contributed to this report