Two men stoned to death in Iran

Tehran - Two men have been stoned to death for adultery at a cemetery in the northeastern city of Mashhad while a third escaped with his life, the Iranian newspaper Etemad Melli reported on Sunday.

The reformist daily, quoting a statement from a group of lawyers and women's rights activists, said the stoning was carried out at Behesht Reza cemetery in the first week of the Iranian month of Day, which runs from December 21 to 26.

"One of them named Mahmoud, an Afghan national, was able to save himself from the stoning hole with serious injuries, but two others died," it said, identifying one of the men killed as Houshang Kh.

The Iranian judiciary had no immediate comment on the report.

An Iranian newspaper reported earlier this month that a man named Houshang Kh. had been executed for rape and adultery. It said the man was a follower of the banned Bahai faith.

Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi issued a directive in 2002 imposing a moratorium on such executions.

The rights group quoted by Etemad Melli "voiced concern at the stoning sentence being carried out contrary to Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi's order" and "called on the authorities to put an end to this punishment".

Under Iran's Islamic law, adultery is still theoretically punishable by stoning, which involves the public hurling of stones at the convict buried up to his waist. A woman is buried up to her shoulders.

The convict is spared death if he can free himself from the hole.

In August, the judiciary said it had scrapped the punishment in Iran's new Islamic penal code, whose outlines have been adopted by parliament but whose details are yet to be debated by MPs before final approval.

The judiciary has said that several stoning sentences have been suspended and commuted to either lashes or jail terms.

However, in July 2007 the Islamic republic drew international outrage by stoning to death a man convicted of adultery, Jafar Kiani, in a village in the northwest of Iran.

Eight women and two men are currently convicted to death by stoning in Iranian prisons, Etemad Melli said quoting rights activists, while the sentence has been commuted for four other women.

A group of Iranian lawyers, including prominent women's rights activist Shadi Sadr, has been campaigning for years to remove the sentence from Iran's law and defended several such convicts.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the death penalty, including juvenile executions and stoning, in Iran in an October report to the General Assembly on the country's human rights situation.

Amnesty International says Iran's total of 317 executions in 2007 exceeded those of any other country apart from China. Iran also executed at least 246 people in 2008, according to an AFP count. - AFP

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