TEHRAN, Sep 27 (Reuters) Iran today hanged three men in public on Thursday for raping and robbing twelve young women, most of them university students, Iranian media reported, in the latest of a series of executions in the Islamic Republic.
Hadi Jafartabar, Mirhadi Mirtaghi and Seyyed Shoja Mousazadeh were executed in front of thousands of spectators at a sports complex in the northern city of Babol, the state broadcaster said on its Web site.
Babol Public prosecutor Fazlollah Vakilirad said they began their ''immoral acts'' three years ago, Fars News Agency said.
''They would deceive the girls, rape them and steal their belongings,'' he said.
The men were hunted down after one girl gave her attackers large sums of money so they would not rape her, and then went to the police, Fars said. A fourth man had also been sentenced to death in the case, but was awaiting a ruling on his appeal.
Activists say many Iranian rape cases go unreported because of social stigma attached to the crime in the Islamic state.
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 murderers, rapists and drug traffickers.
At least 60 people have been put to death since mid-July, including 21 on Sept 5 alone, according to a count based on Iranian media reports.
The European Union said last month it was ''deeply concerned about the series of collective public executions'' in Iran.
Amnesty International, which says Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world, said earlier this month it had recorded 210 so far this year, compared with 177 for all of 2006.
Iran says it is prosecuting criminals under its Islamic sharia law and rejects criticism of its human rights record, accusing Western countries of double standards.
''The claims about human rights by the West is only a political tool for putting pressure on Iran and third world countries,'' deputy judiciary chief Ebrahim Ra'isi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
''They (Western countries) themselves do not respect the most basic human rights,'' he said.
Murder, rape, adultery, armed robbery, apostasy and drug smuggling are all punishable by death under Iran's sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution.
REUTERS SS RN1729