The woman, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, was convicted of adultery in 2006. She confessed to the crime after being subjected to 99 lashes, but retracted her confession later and has since denied wrongdoing. She has asked for clemency from the Iranian courts, but has been rebuffed.
The case contained irregularities that call the verdict into question, activists point out. Human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei pointed out that Ashtiani, a woman of Azeri descent from the northern city of Tabriz, may not have understood the proceedings, as she speaks Turkish, not Farsi. In addition, the case appears to have violated Article 74 of the Iranian penal code, which requires at least four witnesses -- either four men or three men and two women -- for an adulterer to receive a stoning sentence. There were no witnesses in Ashtiani's case.
But as the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 2007, Ashtiani has no legal recourse. Veteran Iranian human rights activist Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty, told CNN, "Legally it's all over. It's a done deal. Sakineh can be stoned at any minute.
"That is why we have decided to start a very broad, international public movement. Only that can help."
Death by stoning involves burying the person to be executed up to his or her neck, then hurling large stones at the head. The stones are large enough to cause serious pain, but do not produce immediate death. According to Amnesty International, women make up a disproportionate number of those sentenced to death by stoning, accounting for a sizable majority of all such cases. Amnesty has called on Iranian officials to immediately call a halt to all executions, commute all death sentences, and move towards repeal of its death penalty laws. Amnesty reports 126 persons had been executed in Iran from January 1 to June 6 of this year.
Ahadi said that Iranian clerics have historically been sensitive to world opinion in matters like this. "Experience shows [that] ... when the pressure gets very high, the Islamic government starts to say something different."
The U.S. State Department has also criticized the stoning, saying it raises questions of serious human rights violations in Iran.
Written by Sandy Smith