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Brazil formalizes asylum offer for Iranian woman sentenced to stoning

By the CNN Wire Staff
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of adultery in 2006 and was originally sentenced to death by stoning.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of adultery in 2006 and was originally sentenced to death by stoning.
  • NEW: "I was asking to reconsider the hypothesis," says Brazil's foreign minister
  • "The United States is deeply concerned" about the case, Clinton says
  • Iran says Lula lacks enough information about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani
  • Brazilian President Lula: "We would receive her with arms wide open"

(CNN) -- Brazil has formalized its offer of asylum to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning, Brazilian state-run media said Tuesday.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had made a previous offer for asylum, raising Ashtiani's hopes for survival. Brazil's ambassador in Tehran has now officially made the offer at Iran's foreign ministry, according to the state-run news service Agencia Brasil.

Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations Celso Amorim told reporters Tuesday that he spoke last month with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, about Ashtiani's sentence. "I called my Iranian colleague ... to say that the action hurt the sensibility of the Brazilian people and that therefore I was making an appeal, I was asking to reconsider the hypothesis. In that moment, actually, the news we had was more about the stoning, which was based on a highly debatable crime in our view of the world."

Amorim described Ashtiani's threatened punishment as "something that is really baffling to our culture and to the way we see the world."

On Saturday, Lula addressed the matter in Bogota, Colombia, where he said he had asked Amorim to ask the Brazilian ambassador in Tehran to talk to Iranian authorities about it.

"I can't imagine someone being stoned," Lula said. "I can't imagine. That's why I made the request. If there was condition to send her to Brazil, we would receive her with arms wide open."

Lula added that he opposes the death penalty under any circumstances. "I don't think the state has the right to kill a person," he said.

Video: Iranian woman's lawyer released

Iran rejected a previous, informal offer, saying Lula lacked sufficient information about the case.

Last month, Malek Ajdar Sharifi, who is the head of the judiciary of East Azerbaijan province, said Ashtiani's crimes were "numerous" and said she was "convicted of adultery and murder and was sentenced to death," according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Ashtiani's lawyers said Iranian authorities are mischaracterizing the status of the adultery and murder charges against her. Attorney Hootan Kian said that, though Ashtiani was cleared of her husband's murder five years ago, Iran continues to insist she was found guilty.

Ashtiani has said she was "grateful" for Brazil's offer and would "graciously" accept, according to a statement from her son, Sajjad Ashtiani, who has visited his mother in a Tabriz prison.

Ashtiani, 43, was convicted of adultery in 2006 and was originally sentenced to death by stoning. But after international pressure, Iranian authorities said the sentence has been put on hold.

A decision could come any day on whether the courts will reinstate Ashtiani's sentence of death by stoning, execute her by other means or possibly even grant her a reprieve, according to human rights groups.

Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the International Committee against Stoning, said if Ashtiani is executed, "it is entirely political. It has nothing to do with the case itself."

Ahadi wrote a letter to Lula last week, saying that his offer was an "important step" in saving Ashtiani from undue punishment.

Brazil's relations with Iran have improved in recent years and it recently participated in talks with Tehran aimed at restarting negotiations about Iran's nuclear program.

In May, Brazil helped broker a deal with Iran that would provide the government with enriched uranium for medical research. It also abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote on tougher sanctions for the Islamic republic.

One of Ashtiani's attorneys, Mohammad Mostafaei, is seeking asylum for himself in Norway. Mostafaei's wife and brother-in-law were arrested and imprisoned in Iran but have since been released.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "troubled" by Ashtiani's case. "The United States is deeply concerned that Iran continues to deny its citizens their civil rights and intimidate and detain those Iranians who seek to hold their government accountable and stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens," she said in a statement.

Clinton also expressed concern about the fate of protesters who were arrested in anti-government demonstrations after the June 2009 elections and about Ebrahim Hamidi, an 18-year-old man charged with homosexuality and facing "imminent execution despite the fact that he is currently without legal representation."

She urged Tehran "to halt these executions in accordance with its obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" and called for the release of political prisoners and human-rights defenders.

Journalist Luciani Gomes contributed to this story.