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Vatican says stoning in Iran adultery case 'brutal'

Image: A banner in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is hung outside the Equal Opportunities Ministry palace in Rome
A banner in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is hung outside the Equal Opportunities Ministry palace in Rome on Sept. 1. Italy's Equal Opportunities Ministry on Wednesday expressed solidarity with the Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery, unfurling a large banner bearing her face outside its building in Rome. The banner reads, "For the life of Sakineh." Stefano Rellandini / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Vatican on Sunday raised the possibility of using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to spare the life of an Iranian widow sentenced to be stoned for adultery.

In its first public statement on the case, which has attracted worldwide attention, the Vatican also decried stoning as a particularly "brutal" form of capital punishment.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Catholic church opposes the death penalty in general.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of adultery. In July, Iranian authorities said they would not carry out the stoning sentence for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for adultery and other offenses.

Her son, Sajad, told the Italian news agency Adnkronos that he was appealing to Pope Benedict XVI and to Italy to work to stop the execution.

Lombardi told The Associated Press that no formal appeal had reached the Vatican, but hinted that Vatican's diplomacy might be employed to try to save Ashtiani.

Lombardi said in a statement that the Holy See "is following the case with attention and interest."

"When the Holy See is asked, in an appropriate way, to intervene in humanitarian issues with the authorities of other countries, as it has happened many times in the past, it does so not in a public way, but through its own diplomatic channels," Lombardi said in a statement.

In one of the late Pope John Paul II's encyclicals in 1995, the pontiff laid out the Catholic Church's stance against capital punishment.

Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, told the ANSA news agency that while Italy respects Iranian sovereignty and isn't in any way interfering, "a gesture of clemency from Iran is the only thing that can save her."

Meanwhile, the lawyer who defended a woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran was reunited with his family in Norway Thursday.

Mohammad Mostafaei said he was pleased his wife and 7-year-old daughter were allowed to travel to Norway on tourist visas.

In August, the 31-year-old lawyer fled to Turkey then Norway after learning Iranian officials intended to arrest him. He has said he is seeking asylum in Norway, but still hopes officials in Iran will allow him to return to his practice.

Mostafaei's wife, Fereshteh, said Thursday that she was "really happy" to join her husband in Norway. But she said she was "very worried about the future" and unsure how long the family will stay in Norway.

"We have no plan right now," she said.

Mostafaei hugged his wife and held his daughter, Parmida, as he spoke to reporters at Oslo's Gardermoen international airport.

Mostafaei maintained a blog that sparked a worldwide campaign to free his former client, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery. 

Mostafaei predicted last month that the Iranian government would grant Ashtiani clemency because of the international reaction to her case.