An Iranian widow sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery has reportedly been lashed 99 times after what was said to be a picture of her without a headscarf appeared in a newspaper.
The New York Times reported that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, had received the punishment in the prison where she is being held, citing her lawyer Javid Kian. However it added that another lawyer disputed the account.
The news came shortly after the Vatican said it was considering using behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to spare her life, describing stoning as a particularly "brutal" form of capital punishment.
The Times newspaper in the U.K. published a photograph of a woman it said was Ashtiani last month and appealed to Iran not to execute her. The woman was not wearing a veil.
Several days later, the paper published an apology saying the picture was of someone else.
However Kian, who said he had not seen Ashtiani since August 11, told The New York Times that a woman who had been held with his client "told me that Ashtiani said she had received 99 lashes" for "indecency" following the publication of the picture.
He added that the sentence was designed to "impact her family and journalists who may report about her case." "It is to spread fear so they don’t talk, and to keep the family’s mouths shut," Kian said.
Susan Hejrat, an Iranian exile who lives in Sweden, told The New York Times by phone that the picture was of her, saying it "could have been mixed up in email." "I am very upset that she got another punishment because the Iranian government saw a picture of me," she said.
The Times in London said it was looking into how the error over the picture had occurred. Commenting on the reported lashing, Simon Peason, an editor there, told The New York Times: "If what we’re hearing is correct, you’d have to draw the conclusion that they are sending a message to the Western media that Ashtiani will suffer if we cover her story.”
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 had appealed to Pope Benedict XVI and to Italy to work to stop the execution.
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.
Another lawyer who defended Ashtiani, Mohammad Mostafaei, is now living in Norway after fleeing Iran when he learned he was to be arrested.
He has said he is seeking asylum in Norway, but still hopes officials in Iran will allow him to return to his practice.
Mostafaei predicted last month that the Iranian government would grant Ashtiani clemency because of the international reaction to her case.