Iran halts planned stoning to death of couple

Iranian judicial authorities have stopped the planned stoning to death of a man and woman convicted of adultery following protests from Norway and other countries.

An Iranian justice official denied that any such stoning had been planned.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere summoned the Iranian ambassador to Oslo on Wednesday after an Iranian human rights activist said the man and woman were set to be stoned to death Thursday in Qazvin province, west of Tehran.

In a statement, Stoere said he had told the ambassador that "stoning is a barbarian punishment" which violated human rights.

He also told the ambassador that the Norwegian parliament's foreign affairs committee would likely cancel a planned visit to Iran next week if the stoning was carried out.

Later Wednesday, Stoere told Norwegian news agency NTB that he had received information that Iranian judicial authorities had stayed the execution.

Western diplomats in Tehran had also raised the issue with Iranian authorities, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry official said. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, the official said the Western protests may have influenced the Iranian auhtorities' decision to stop the stoning.

However, the head of the justice department in Qazvin province, Hassan Qassemi, denied that the stoning had been planned.

Qassemi was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that the "implementation of the verdict of stoning which was announced by some people, has not been true."

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, an Iranian human rights activist living in Norway, said he had urged the Norwegian government to act after learning that a woman named Mokarrameh Ebrahimi would be stoned to death together with a man with whom she had an 11-year-old child.