Nine people in Iran - eight women and one man - have been sentenced to death by stoning after being convicted of adultery in verdicts lawyers blame on a resurgence of hardline Islamic fundamentalism.
The sentences have been imposed in courts across the country despite a supposed moratorium on the punishment, which Iran says is justified under sharia law.
Lawyers say most of the nine have been victims of violence and are mostly too ill-educated to understand the charges against them.
Many of the sentences were handed down after hearings held in private without the presence of witnesses and defence lawyers.
One woman, Kobra Najar, an ethnic Kurd, is said to have been condemned after being forced by her husband into prostitution. After she divorced him, he forced their daughter to sell her body.
Another defendant, Shamame Qorbani, claims she was raped but that the allegation was not investigated.
Details of the sentences were disclosed by Iranian lawyers yesterday in Tehran as they attempted to generate international support for a campaign to force Iran's government to abolish stoning.
"These women mostly come from the illiterate masses and did not have money or access to a lawyer. Many did not understand Farsi and, of course, all the interrogations were in Farsi," Shadi Sadr, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, told the Guardian. "In all of the cases, there has been violence against them, or they have been forced into marriages, or their divorce applications have been refused. In some cases, they couldn't apply for a divorce due to family pressures."
Two of the cases took place in Tehran while two others are in the largely Arab-speaking city of Ahvaz. Two others are from the mainly Azeri-speaking north of the country.
They came to light after a group of Iranian lawyers embarked on a campaign to halt stoning, which has been condemned by international human rights groups.
The lawyers are calling on Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, to issue pardons.
However, Shahroudi's influence in the current political climate is believed to be limited. Last year, he ordered a stay of execution for a man condemned to be stoned for adultery but local officials carried out the sentence in violation of his orders.
Sadr said the verdicts were a consequence of an atmosphere of political repression and religious fundamentalism, under which MPs feel free introduce ever more draconian legislation. These include proposed laws allowing execution for witchcraft and bodily punishments such as blinding and amputation under a new penal code before parliament.
"It is connected to the general hardline politics," she said. "The more there is fundamentalism in general in our politics, the greater the worry that these verdicts will be carried out. If you have a hardline prosecutor in a remote rural area, he is going to be much more able to put his beliefs into practice in the current atmosphere."Topics
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