Iran says woman sentenced to stoning given "leave" from prison

Thomson Reuters

DUBAI, March 18 (Reuters) - An Iranian woman sentenced to die by stoning for adultery and later given a 10-year jail term instead has been allowed to leave prison, the judiciary said, in a new twist to a case that has triggered years of criticism of Iran's rights record.

A judiciary spokesman told Reuters that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani had been given "a leave" from prison several weeks ago for good behaviour. He said, without elaborating, that the decision was a sign of "our religion's leniency towards women".

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There was no immediate word on whether the release was permanent or whether it was subject to some form of probation.

Ashtiani, who has two children, was convicted of adultery and complicity in the murder of her husband in 2005.

A court sentenced Ashtiani to be stoned in 2006 but the sentence was suspended in 2010 in the face of international pressure on Tehran. Her sentence was then reduced to 10 years, for being an accessory to her husband's murder.

Iranian authorities dismiss allegations of human rights abuses, saying they are following Islamic law.

Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the 1979 revolution, adultery may be punished by death by stoning and crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by hanging.

The European Union called Ashtiani's stoning sentence "barbaric". The Vatican pleaded for clemency and Brazil offered her asylum. The case added to tensions between Iran and the West arising from its contested nuclear programme.

(Reporting by Michelle Moghtader in Dubai and Parisa Hafezi in Vienna, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)