Iran said on Saturday that it has yet to take a final decision on the stoning of a woman convicted of adultery and complicity in her husband's murder in a case that has sparked an international outcry.
As human rights groups demonstrated in Paris and France called on the European Union to threaten new sanctions, the foreign ministry said that the carrying out of the sentence has been stayed pending a judicial review.
"In this case, implementation of the sentence has been stayed and is under review by the judiciary," ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told AFP.
Human rights officials in the judiciary, quoted by ISNA news agency, said 43-year-old mother of two Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in a case which also got her a 10-year jail term for participating in her husband's murder.
Mohammadi-Ashtiani and her lover Issa Taheri escaped the death sentence for their role in the murder as they were pardoned by the victims' relatives, a statement by the rights officials said.
Mehmanparast said that such severe sentences are never carried out without exhaustive judicial consideration.
"For heavy sentences, we have meticulous and lengthy procedures," he said.
"This verdict is currently being reviewed, and when the judiciary arrives at a final conclusion, it will be announced."
Mehmanparast said that Mohammadi-Ashtiani faced two separate sets of charges.
"One concerns her betrayal of her husband and having illicit relations with strangers. On this count, implementation of sentence has been stayed and is under review by the judiciary," he said.
"On the second count, she is accused of being an accomplice in the murder of her husband. That case is in its final proceedings.
"These crimes (adultery and murder) have been proved, but there is no definitive judgment."
On Friday, France stepped up the diplomatic pressure on Iran over the case by urging the European Union to adopt new sanctions if Mohammadi-Ashtiani is stoned to death.
"A joint letter from all EU member states to the Iranian authorities has become necessary, in my view, if we want to save this young woman," Kouchner wrote in a letter to Ashton.
"We must engage the Union in new initiatives to remind Iranian authorities that, just as in the nuclear matter, their isolationist and closed stance will have a cost for them."
Like the United States, the European Union has imposed its own additional sanctions against Iran's controversial nuclear programme over and above the four sets of punitive measures already approved by the United Nations.
In her reply to Kouchner, Ashton said: "The moment has come for the European Union to collectively express its rejection of practices of another age."
On Saturday, rallies took place in several French cities in support of Mohammadi-Ashtiani, with around 300 people gathering in central Paris. Smaller demonstrations took place in Toulouse, Lyon, Poitiers and Montpellier.
Mohammadi-Ashtiani's lawyer Javid Houtan Kian welcomed the international spotlight on his client, but expressed concern about the chances of overturning the sentence.
"The people who are going to review the case know they are under international scrutiny... They know their decision will have international ramifications," Houtan Kian told Britain's The Times newspaper.
"If the Iranian judiciary follows the written code I would be very, very optimistic because there are so many flaws in the case. Anyone would realise that," he said.
"The problem is that they don?t follow their own rules any more so it?s completely unpredictable.
"If they can get away with stoning Sakineh, they can get away with anything."
The Iranian judiciary's human rights officials dismissed international criticism of the case, insisting the charges against Mohammadi-Ashtiani were "proven."
Their statement said comments made about the case by foreign officials were "unfair and biased... and against the UN charter and international treaties."
Source: AFP Global Edition