By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 1:18 PM
TEHRAN - An influential Iranian state-run newspaper on Tuesday reiterated and expanded on its earlier derogatory remarks about French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, spurring Iran's Foreign Ministry to warn news media to refrain from insulting foreign dignitaries.
The Kayhan daily first called Bruni-Sarkozy "a prostitute" on Saturday. The paper repeated that remark Tuesday and added that the first lady, a former model and pop star, "deserves to die" because of her "perverted lifestyle" and her public support for an Iranian woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning.
The comments angered the French Foreign Ministry, which called them "unacceptable." Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, responded by urging the national news media to use restraint and avoid "indecent words."
"The media can properly criticize the wrong and hostile policies of other countries by refraining from using insulting words. This is not correct," Mehmanparast said.
But the repeated allegations by the paper, which is headed by a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicate that hard-liners have launched an offensive against the mounting international criticism over the Islamic republic's controversial capital punishments and family laws, Iranian activists say.
Bruni-Sarkozy is an international figure who married French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 and has had relationships with people such as Mick Jagger, Kevin Costner and Eric Clapton. In 2007, she told a French magazine she became easily "bored with monogamy."
Bruni-Sarkozy published an open letter in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death. Ashtiani is awaiting execution, but according to a statement by the Iranian Embassy in London, she will be hanged instead of stoned.
"Spill your blood, deprive your children of their mother? Why? Because you have lived? Because you have loved? Because you are a woman? An Iranian? Every part of me refuses to accept this," Bruni-Sarkozy wrote in her letter to Ashtiani.
Key elements of the case against Ashtiani are in dispute. She originally pleaded guilty in May 2006 to having an illicit relationship with two men after the death of her husband and received 99 lashes as punishment. Four months later, when a separate court prosecuted one of the two men on charges of killing her husband, she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning.
Iranian authorities subsequently said Ashtiani had committed murder. Earlier this month, she confessed on state-run television that she had been an accomplice in her husband's murder and had committed adultery with his cousin. But her attorney said she made the statements under duress after being tortured for two days, and she told London's Guardian newspaper through an intermediary that Iranian officials were lying about the murder charge.
"I was found guilty of adultery and was acquitted of murder," the paper quoted her as saying.
On Sunday, Iran's judiciary issued a statement condemning international interference in the case and asserting that in 2005 Ashtiani had conducted an extramarital affair and drugged and electrocuted her husband with her new lover.
"We are not duty bound to explain cases, but feel we have to enlighten the general public about her crimes," the statement read.
Kayhan, which reflects the opinions of officials responsible for a crackdown last year on protesters disputing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection, denounced Bruni-Sarkozy on Saturday as a "prostitute" who had "kicked up a human rights fuss."
On Tuesday the paper elaborated on its allegations. "A study of Carla Bruni's past history shows why this ill-famed woman is supporting an Iranian woman who committed adultery and participated in the death of her husband," the paper wrote, quoting French tabloids who have written about Bruni-Sarkozy's alleged extramarital affairs. "This shows that in reality she herself deserves death," the paper said.
Women's rights activists in Iran say the allegations represent new efforts by some Iranian leaders to restrict women but also to confront foreigners who criticize human rights violations in the country.
"Iran's borders are not enough for them. They want to promote their ideas of Islam on a global level," said Shahindokht Molaverdi, a member of the Islamic Women's Coalition, a group of religious feminists that is lobbying against proposed changes in Iran's family laws.
The government wants, among other things, to allow men to be able to take several wives - uncommon in Iran - without having to gain the consent of their first spouse. Supporters of the bill say it would combat perversion and "un-Islamic" lifestyles.
According to activists, there has been an increase in the number of women hanged or sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, a development they say illustrates the growing influence of a group of clerics, politicians and Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders who advocate a return to the Islamic values of Iran's 1979 revolution.
"They are religious hard-liners who say such actions are the word of God which must be implemented by an Islamic government," Mowlaverdi said. "The attack on Bruni is a clear example of their mind-set."
email@example.com Special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie contributed to this report.