Iran hangs 29 convicted criminals in Tehran

TEHRAN Sun Jul 27, 2008 12:53pm EDT

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran executed 29 convicted drug smugglers and other criminals in Tehran's Evin prison at dawn on Sunday, state media reported, following an expanded crackdown on crime in the Islamic Republic.

Sunday's executions all took place at 0510 (8:40 p.m. EDT Saturday), said state broadcaster IRIB. Executions of a handful of people at the same time are often reported but rarely a group this large.

Iran is often accused of rights abuses by rights groups and Western governments, although Tehran dismisses the criticism and accuses the West of double standards and hypocrisy.

"The 29 who were executed this morning were involved in the smuggling of narcotics on a wide scale, organized crime, murder and armed robbery," Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi was quoted as saying by state radio.

Police have in recent weeks arrested dozens of people in a new drive against "immoral behavior" in Iran, which Amnesty International has listed as the world's second-most prolific executioner in 2007 after China.

Iran said on Saturday it planned to execute 30 people for murder, rape, drug smuggling and other crimes.

"We are hoping Tehran will become the most unsafe place for drug dealers, thugs and trouble-makers and also violators of people's honor," Mortazavi said.

"These convicts had long criminal records and after being released from prison they returned to the same criminal activities," he said.

IRIB said they "had smuggled thousands of kilos of narcotics in the country and outside the country" and that some of them were also convicted of rape, murder, armed robbery and "disrupting public security and peace."

At least 10 people were hanged in the country in July. In September last year, 21 people were executed in one day, but in two different places.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran's sharia law, enforced since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Amnesty International in April said Iran executed at least 317 people last year, trailing only China which carried out 470 death sentences.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)