Iran bans death penalty by stoning


Iran has been reported by an Iranian newspaper to have abolished stoning as a form of capital punishment, in an apparent bid to ease European Union human rights concerns ahead of a possible breakthrough trade agreement.

Bahar,a daily Iranian newspaper quoted Qorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, the former intelligence minister who heads the Supreme Administrative Court as saying, "The practice has been stopped for a while."

The newspaper also cited a reformist parliamentarian as saying the head of Judiciary had sent a directive to judges instructing them to stop issuing death verdicts by stoning.

"To the best of my knowledge, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi has ordered that execution by stoning should be stopped," said Jamileh Kadivar.

Judiciary officials were not immediately available to comment.

Under Iran's strict Islamic law, in place since the 1979 Islamic revolution, men and women convicted of adultery are normally sentenced to death by stoning. The condemned are buried in a pit - men up to their waists, women their armpits - and pelted with stones.

According to the law, the stones must be big enough to injure but not kill with just a few blows. If the victim manages to dig themselves out then they are acquitted.

Officials in the Islamic Republic refuse to say how often stonings are carried out, but at least two women were reported to have been stoned to death last year.

The European Union and Iran began negotiations on a trade agreement earlier this month in what is seen as the most serious Western attempt to engage Iran since 1979. But the EU has insisted that Iran take steps to improve its human rights record.

Moderate President Mohammad Khatami and his reformist allies have tried to get hardliners to ban stoning, arguing it would not only tarnish the image of Iran in the eye of the world but also adversely affect Tehran's relationship with the EU.

But differing interpretations of Islamic Sharia law has made the issue so sensitive that the government appears grudging to make the directive public, fearing a backlash by hardline judges.

While stonings are rare, execution by hanging is common for murder, rape, drug smuggling and armed robbery.