TEHRAN Iran hanged 21 convicted drug smugglers and other criminals on Wednesday, Iranian media said, the latest of a series of executions that have been criticised by rights groups and European governments.
Seventeen drug smugglers were executed in the eastern province of Khorasan Razavi, the Web site of state broadcaster IRIB said. Iran's eastern border areas are notorious for clashes between drug traffickers and security forces.
"Seventeen smugglers were hanged this morning after all legal procedures were carried out," Colonel Alipour, a police spokesman, was quoted as saying by IRIB, which gave his last name only.
Four other offenders were put to death in the southern city of Shiraz after being convicted of banditry, smuggling, illegal weapons possession and armed confrontation with security forces, the Fars News Agency said.
A big crowd watched the hangings in Shiraz, Fars reported, adding that onlookers said executions should continue until "all criminal activities had ended" in the area.
A provincial justice department official said one criminal or smuggler had been executed each week in southerly Fars province since the start of the Iranian year on March 21. Shiraz is the capital of Fars province.
"This shows the efforts of the judiciary system in bringing about permanent social security and a serious confrontation with those people who are corrupt," Abdolnabi Najibi was quoted as saying by Fars.
The number of executions in Iran, many in public, has risen since July with the launch of a summer crackdown on "immoral behaviour". Police have arrested dozens of drug addicts, smugglers, rapists and murderers.
Amnesty International has protested to Iran over the number of executions, which it said in an April report had doubled to at least 177 last year.
Before the latest series of hangings that began in July, Amnesty said at least 124 people had been put to death in 2007.
The European Union has criticised Tehran's human rights record and expressed concern about the use of death penalty in the Islamic state.
Murder, rape, adultery, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran's Islamic sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution.
Iran routinely dismisses criticism of rights abuses, particularly from Western organisations or countries, saying it is acting on the basis of sharia.