[JURIST] Iran has commuted the sentences of four people scheduled to be executed by stoning and has suspended the use of the punishment, local media reported Wednesday. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, the head of the country's judiciary, had originally placed a moratorium on the punishment in 2002, but nine people were given the sentence [BBC report] in July for adultery and sexual offenses. International rights advocates have increased pressure [AI release] on Iran to ban the punishment, and the country announced an investigation into the judge [JURIST report] who ordered the stoning execution of a man convicted of adultery in July 2007. Others who had faced the punishment will now receive either life in prison or other forms of corporal punishment. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.
In July, Iran hanged 29 people [JURIST report] in Tehran in a move that human rights groups suggested was intended to challenge international criticism [JURIST report] of its death penalty policies. Last April, an Amnesty International report [text; JURIST report] named Iran as having one of the three highest execution rates in the world, along with China and Pakistan. Most executions in the country are carried out by hanging and are related to such crimes as murder and rape, although an Iranian airport customs officer was executed for corruption [JURIST report] in January.