UNHCR: Lawyer who defended Iranian woman in stoning case is in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The lawyer of a woman who had been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran is in Turkey and has the option of applying for asylum, the U.N.'s refugee agency said Wednesday.

The lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, went missing after being questioned by judicial officials at Tehran's Evin prison for several hours on July 23, according to Amnesty International.

Mostafaei apparently surfaced in Turkey and was detained because of a passport problem after entering the country, Turkey's Radikal newspaper said Wednesday. It gave no source for the report and there was no information on when he was detained or where he was being held. Iranian nationals do not require visas to enter Turkey.

"We are monitoring developments concerning the case," said Metin Corabatir, a UNHCR spokesman in Turkey. "The channels are open for him to apply for asylum."

A European diplomat in Ankara said Turkish authorities had contacted several Western embassies to see if they were willing to offer the lawyer asylum. The diplomat asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.

Turkey's Interior Ministry, in charge of police and asylum cases, declined to comment.

Amnesty International last month accused Iran of harassing Mostafaei and said his wife and her brother had been detained. The lawyer maintained a blog that helped generate a wave of international outrage over death by stoning. Britain and the United States called for the practice to be scraped.

Iran said last month it would not carry out the stoning against Mostafaei's client, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for adultery and other offenses.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch has said Ashtiani was first convicted in May 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband — for which a court in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, sentenced her to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery, despite having retracted a confession which she claims was made under duress.

Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic revolution, and even though Iran's judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to other punishments.

The last known stoning was carried out in 2007, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been meted out.