TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Two men convicted of adultery in Iran were stoned to death in December, but a third convicted man escaped while the punishment was being carried out, the judiciary has said.
Iran has been heavily criticized by the European Union, rights groups, and the United Nations for stoning criminals and there are official Iranian recommendations the practice should not occur.
The last officially reported stoning in the Islamic republic was carried out in 2007.
"We had three instances of stoning in the city of Mashhad," judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told a news conference, referring to a city in eastern Iran.
"The stonings were carried out on two [men] who had been charged with crimes such as having adulterous relationships with married women, and the third [man] managed to escape from the pit," he said, adding the third's crimes also included adultery.
Jamshidi added the stonings were carried out 20 days earlier but did not give a precise date.
He said individual judges were free to order stonings, even though there were recommendations to stop such proceedings until laws on such cases had been "integrated." He did not elaborate.
Iran's judiciary, which ordered a moratorium on stoning in 2002, last year said the lives of four people sentenced to stoning had been spared and the implementation of other sentences had been halted pending a review of their cases.
Iran has implemented Shari'a law since Iran's 1979 revolution.
According to Iran's Islamic penal code, men convicted of adultery should be buried up to their waists and women up to their chests for stoning. Stones used should not be large enough to kill the person immediately.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a nongovernmental organisation based outside Iran, said the man who escaped was an Afghan but did not give the nationalities of the other two.
"Stonings should have ended before and need to end now," said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman for the group.
In a statement issued earlier in January, the group said someone who was convicted on the basis of another's testimony and who escaped the stoning pit may have their life spared. But it said anyone who had confessed to the crime would be reburied to be stoned to death.