Page last updated at 16:26 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 17:26 UK

Iranians suspend death by stoning

Two Iranian youths are prepared for hanging in Mashhad, Iran (file picture)
Iran has some of the highest execution rates in the world

Iran's has suspended the punishment of death by stoning, state media say.

A judiciary spokesman said four people sentenced to die by stoning had had their sentences commuted and that all other cases had been put under review.

Lawyers and human rights campaigners have said at least eight women and a man are awaiting the punishment.

Stoning is the penalty for crimes such as adultery under Iranian law, but it is rarely carried out. The last such execution was reportedly last year.

Amnesty International called on Iran in January to abolish what it called a "horrific practice, designed to increase the suffering" of those condemned.

The country's penal code stipulates that before carrying out the punishment, men should be buried up to their waists and women up to their chests. The stones used must be large enough to cause the condemned pain, but not sufficient to kill immediately.

Amnesty also said a disproportionate number of those sentenced to death by stoning were women because they were not treated equally before the law and were particularly vulnerable to unfair trials.

'Under review'

Three people are said to have been stoned for adultery since a moratorium was called in 2002 by the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

The issued verdicts for all of these cases will not be carried out for now
Alireza Jamshidi
Judiciary spokesman

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says this is because the authorities have been reluctant to completely abolish a penalty they say is endorsed by Islamic law.

Although stoning is not prescribed in the Koran, some Muslim scholars say it is in the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Nevertheless, an Iranian judiciary spokesman said the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had commuted the sentences of two people to 10 years in jail. Two others would receive lashes, he said.

"The issued verdicts for all of these cases will not be carried out for now," Alireza Jamshidi said, according to Iranian state media.

"In a few other cases, these people have asked for forgiveness and their request... is under review," he added.

Human rights campaigners recently warned that eight women aged between 27 and 43 were sentenced to death by stoning for convictions including prostitution, incest and adultery. A 50-year-old male music teacher was condemned to a similar fate for having sex with one of his students.

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