Iran second only to China for executions
Iran is second only to China worldwide in the number of people it executes every year, almost all by hanging.
Apart from the wide range of offences for which it is carried out, which include political crimes, adultery, homosexuality and drug-trafficking amongst others, Iran's practice of executing juveniles causes particular outrage.
Amnesty International, which campaigns against the death penalty worldwide, says it knows of 388 people who were executed in 2009, up from 346 in 2008, though it adds that the true figure is "likely to be higher".
It also suggested there was a spike in the eight weeks between the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 9 and his inauguration on August 5, when the number killed was 112. The previous five-and-a-half months had seen 196 executions.
So far this year, Amnesty says "at least and probably many more than 200" have been hanged.
Stoning was not a punishment prescribed by law until 1983, four years after the Islamic revolution. This form of execution is not demanded by the Koran, but is recommended for adultery in separate "Hadith" or traditions followed by both the Sunni and Shia branches of the religion.
Because the requirements of proof in such cases is high, they almost always rely on "confessions", which may explain the determination of the authorities to extract and publicise confessions by Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
A moratorium on stoning in Iran was imposed in 2002, which was formalised in 2008, though since 2002 at least five men and a woman were killed in this way. Two men were executed in December, and a third, Vali Azad, in secret in a prison in north-western Iran on March 5 2009.
Among the others known to have been executed in 2009 were five who were under the age of 18 when their offences were committed, four boys and one girl.
The total number of executions has fallen, however, since the peak of political executions in the 1980s following the Revolution. In 1988, thousands of political prisoners – at least 4,000, and up to 30,000 in some reports – were executed on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The moratorium on stoning is part of a wider move to set clearer limits on the penalty. Although boys over the age of 15 and girls over the age of nine can in theory be executed, the authorities say that as of 2008 no one is actually killed until they reach their 18th birthday.
In a case in 2004 a 16-year-old girl was hanged for "crimes against chastity", with the same Revolutionary Court judge acting as investigator, prosecutor, judge and hangman. He was later accused, though never convicted, of raping her in prison, and said he had carried out the punishment for her insolence during the trial.
However, the authorities now say juveniles can only be executed for murder in cases where the family of the victim have refused to exercise their right under Islamic law to accept blood money in return for a reprieve.