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Woman in Iran stoning case denies flogging

/ Source: NBC, msnbc.com and news services

An Iranian woman facing death by stoning after being convicted for adultery appeared Wednesday on state TV to say she has not been whipped or tortured.

Her stoning sentence suspended in July, Sakineh Mohammad Ashtiani allegedly received 99 lashes on Sept. 2 after a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her, her lawyer said at the time.

"I have not been tortured, at all. All these words are my own words. Nobody has forced me to appear before camera and whatever I say is my own words," a blurry image of a woman identified as Ashtiani said in brief video footage.

She said reports that she had been lashed for the photograph were "false and rumors."

The case has caused an international uproar with several countries condemning the sentence and treatment of the woman.

Ahmadinejad pushed back in a Wednesday interview with NBC News's Andrea Mitchell, brushing off any suggestion that a court has even convicted Ashtiani  — instead insinuating that Western media have used the case to inflame tensions.

"I have not heard that the judge has issued any verdict for stoning. And it has not happened," he said through a translator.

The Iranian president also said reports that the sentence has been suspended are also incorrect, saying that Ashtiani's case is still "in the initial stages of the legal proceedings."

"No verdict or decision has ever been issued by the courts; [it] has yet to be issued by the court. I think the problem goes back to the Western media, and they just want to show their hostility against Iran."

Stoning case provokes outrage
Ashtiani's latest interview marks the second time she has appeared on television to counter some of the outrage over the case. The first time was in August when she confessed to being an accomplice to her husband's murder.

Her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian, said he suspected she was tortured into that confession.

Human Rights Watch said Iranian courts first convicted mother of two Ashtiani, 43, in May

2006 on charges that she had an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband.  In that case, the court sentenced her to 99 lashes.

Later that year courts also convicted her of adultery and sentenced her to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession which she claims was made under duress.

Her lawyer said there has been no change in her case and the stoning sentence was suspended in July but not officially canceled. He has said Ashtiani was never formally put on trial on the charge of being an accomplice to murder and was not allowed to mount a defense.

Iran's 'independent judiciary'
The plight of Ashtiani has caused a global outcry and widespread criticism of Iran's justice system. But in the NBC News interview, Ahmadinejad trumpeted the same system.

"We have an independent judiciary in Iran, and we have a due process of law which is very progressive in the world," Ahmadinejad said before noting that tribunals and higher courts can review judges' decisions.

"Don't you have tribunals in the United States? Don't you have people who are sentenced to death — who are receiving death sentence? Why does it happen?" Ahmadinejad asked.  "Does the government of the United States like to jail people or to imprison them?"

Mitchell noted that in the U.S. system, defendants have rights to a fair trial and legal representation, but Ahmadinejad vigorously defended Iran's system.

"We think we have a more advanced judicial system than the systems which are now — which now — that exist in Europe and in the United States."