Iran publicly hangs seven convicted criminals

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TEHRAN, Sep 14 (Reuters) Iran publicly hanged seven convicted drug smugglers and other criminals, the students' news agency ISNA said, the latest of a series of executions that have been criticized by European countries and Human rights groups.

''They had committed various crimes, including drug smuggling, arms smuggling and murder,'' said a local official in Kerman province, an area of southeastern Iran known as a transit route for drugs smuggled from Afghanistan.

The official did not say when the executions were carried out.

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, which says Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world, said last week it had recorded 210 so far this year, compared with 177 for all of 2006.

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

Iran says it is prosecuting criminals under Islamic law and rejects criticism of its human rights record.

REUTERS SBC PM1706

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