(CNSNews.com) – Iran risked unleashing a new diplomatic row with a Western government at the weekend when a newspaper closely linked to the regime called France’s first lady a “prostitute.” Carla Bruni-Sarkozy had earlier criticized the sentencing of an Iranian woman accused of adultery to death by stoning.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, has been on death row since 2006, although her case only recently came to international attention.
“French Prostitutes Also Entered the Human Rights Cry” ran the headline in the hard-line daily, Keyhan, whose editor is appointed by and serves as an advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The editorial also took aim at actress Isabelle Adjani, who is among other high-profile figures to have spoken out against the death sentence handed down to Ashtiani.
“Recently, Carla Bruni, the infamous wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, and Isabelle Adjani, the morally corrupted French actress, expressed support for S.M.,” it said. “Bruni managed to break up Sarkozy’s marriage and become France’s first lady, yet recently there’s been news about her having an affair with a singer.”
Bruni, an Italian former singer and fashion model, married the French president in 2008. The two reportedly met after he already was divorced from his second wife.
Bruni wrote this month to Ashtiani in prison and told her Sarkozy was working to have her released.
“Please know from within your cell that my husband will plead ceaselessly for your release and that France will not abandon you, Bruni wrote. “How can I remain silent after learning of the sentence which has been pronounced against you … I just can’t see what good could come out of this macabre ceremony, whatever the judicial reasons put forward to justify it.”
Keyhan was not alone in hitting back at Bruni. Iranian state television carried a report saying that the French first lady was using the Ashtiani issue in a bid to “cover up her own extramarital relations.”
Stoning to death is traditionally the punishment for adultery under Islamic law, although amid the growing outcry there have been reports that Ashtiani’s sentence may be carried out by hanging instead. Soon after her conviction she received 99 lashes, according to Human Rights Watch.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner last week called on the 27 member states of the European Union to send a joint letter to the Iranian government threatening economic sanctions if Ashtiani is executed.
Iranian media at the weekend cited judiciary officials as saying that the death sentence stands, but will not be carried out immediately. The officials said the verdict was correct, citing a televised confession this month in which Ashtiani supposedly admitted having been an accomplice in her husband’s death.
The ISNA news agency said the judiciary’s “high council on human rights” said the stance taken by officials from other countries was wrong and biased, as they did not have access to reliable information.
Ashtiani’s lawyer Javeed Kian told Rooz, a reformist news organization, that the so-called confession was “extracted under severe duress which included harsh beatings.” Other critics said the move appeared to be an attempt to bring up new and more serious charges to stave off international censure.
Rooz quoted Kian as naming three other clients of his facing a similar fate, Maryam Ghorbanzadeh, Kobra Babai and Azar Bagheri. In Bagheri’s case, she was convicted of adultery after being married at the age of 14.
An Aug. 21 report by Iran Human Rights, a group of Iranian activists living outside the country, named 10 women and three men currently awaiting execution by stoning.
It also cited seven cases between May 2006 and March 2009 in which the sentence had been carried out, and said the actual numbers are likely higher.
“Unlike what the Iranian authorities and some international media claim about the rare incidence of stoning in Iran, this report shows that punishment of stoning has been practiced by the Iranian authorities every year during the past four years,” said Iran Human Rights spokesman Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.
“We hope that the international attention that Mrs. Ashtiani’s case has received, will also be directed towards all the others sentenced to death by stoning and will continue until this barbaric punishment is removed from the penal law,” he said.
Two other rights groups, the International Federation of Human Rights and the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, in a statement urged Tehran to stop using the death penalty as “an instrument for the oppression of dissidents and intimidating the public.”
Iran last spring secured a seat on the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a move one U.N. critic likened to “putting a pyromaniac as chief of the fire department.”
Iran obtained the seat after the U.S. and 12 other Western democracies on the voting body raised no objection.
The CSW is the U.N.’s key policy-making body devoted to gender equality and the advancement of women.