- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TEHRAN | Iranian state television has broadcast a statement purportedly made by an Iranian woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. In it, the woman calls herself a “sinner.”

The stoning sentence against 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been put on hold and is being reviewed by Iran’s supreme court, but she still faces a possible death sentence by other means.

The outcry over the case is one of the latest thorns in Iran’s relationship with the international community, as the United States, the European Union and international human rights groups have urged Tehran to stay the execution.

A woman identified as Mrs. Ashtiani said in the state TV report shown Monday: “I am a sinner.” Her face was blurred, and her words were voiced over in what the TV report said was a translation into Farsi from Azeri Turkish, which is spoken in parts of Iran.

The report also broadcast statements by two men with blurred faces whom state TV identified as Mrs. Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, and her lawyer, Houtan Kian, both of whom were arrested last month. The TV also aired comments from two Germans who were detained while reportedly trying to interview Mrs. Ashtiani’s family in October.

Mrs. Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she also was convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress. She also has been convicted of involvement in the death of her husband, whom Iranian prosecutors say was murdered. She still could face execution by hanging in the two cases.

Her family and lawyer have said in the past that Mrs. Ashtiani was tortured while in custody.

In the state TV report, Mr. Qaderzadeh retracted his previous allegations that his mother was tortured, and he criticized Mr. Kian and Mrs. Ashtiani’s previous lawyer - who fled to Norway this summer - for publicizing the case.

“[Mr. Kian] told me to say she was tortured,” Mr. Qaderzadeh said. “Unfortunately, I listened to him and said lies to the foreign media.

“I’m full of regret. I think if I had not known the two lawyers … the case would have gone through its normal course,” Mr. Qaderzadeh said.

Mr. Kian said he advised Mr. Qaderzadeh to lie to Western journalists.

“Saying lies to foreign media was my recommendation,” Mr. Kian said. “Of course, these were prudent lies.”

The broadcast of the purported statements appeared to be an attempt by Tehran to deflect international criticism of the case and focus attention instead on the West by accusing it of stirring up controversy over the case to damage the reputation of Iran’s Islamic leadership.

Iran in the past has accused a German-based Iranian anti-government group of arranging for Germans to interview Mrs. Ashtiani’s family. Many exiled Iranian opposition groups have offices in Germany.

State TV said the two German nationals, whom Iran has accused of being spies, confessed that they had been hired by a female activist in Germany to speak with Mrs. Ashtiani’s family.

One of the Germans said he intends to file a complaint against the activist once he returns to Germany, while the second German said he had been deceived by her. The faces of both men were shown clearly in the footage.

A spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that the ministry is trying to verify the reports and get more information on the matter. He declined to be named, in line with German government policy.

The arrest of the two men - whom the German Journalists’ Association has identified only as a reporter and a photographer - suggests just how sensitive Tehran is over the case. Their detention almost certainly will elevate tensions between Iran and the West, already running high over suspicions about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.