Iran has given no signal it will bend easily to international appeals. Even an offer of asylum from Brazil — which is on friendly terms with Tehran — went nowhere.
The Vatican has hinted of the possibility of behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save her life.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called the stoning sentence “the height of barbarism.” Earlier, a hard-line Iranian newspaper, Kayhan, described French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy as a “prostitute” for condemning the stoning sentence.
Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the insult was not sanctioned by the government.
U.S. officials have so far let European allies lead the way over the case, preferring to keep up efforts to enforce tighter U.N. and American sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last month that Washington remains “troubled” by the case and Ashtiani’s “fate is unclear.”
Ashtiani’s lawyer sees the next critical period coming next week. The moratorium on death sentences during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will end, and he worries that an execution could be then carried out “any moment.”
Stonings of men and women were widely carried out in the early years after the 1979 Islamic revolution. More recently, the punishment has been imposed less frequently, but cases are rarely confirmed by authorities and no official records are released.
In January 2009, Iranian judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said two men convicted of adultery were stoned to death the previous month in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Iran also reported a death by stoning in July 2007 for a man convicted of adultery. The U.N. human rights chief at the time, Louise Arbour, condemned the execution as a “clear violation of international law.”
Hangings are frequently carried out in Iran, whose legal system is a mix of civil statutes and Quran-inspired codes. Magistrates, who are often Muslim clerics, have wide latitude on sentences for crimes that break moral codes.
In December 2008, Iranian authorities shut down the office of a human rights group led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, whose efforts included appeals to ban stonings. Ebadi has not returned to Iran since last year’s re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.