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A U.S.-based rights group says Iran has carried out 10 secret executions this month at a prison where the practice was criticized in a recent UN report.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the 10 prisoners were executed at Vakilabad prison in Mashhad in early March without their families or lawyers being informed.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 14, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern about the human rights situation in Iran, including the executions of drug traffickers.

"In July 2010, a large number of prisoners were reportedly executed at one time in Mashhad prison," Ban's report said.

"When OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] staff sought further information from Iranian counterparts during a visit to Tehran in December 2010, they confirmed that 60 persons had been executed in Mashhad in pending cases mostly linked to drug trafficking."

Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the New York-based group, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda, "The significant point regarding these [60] executions is that they have been documented in the latest report of the Secretary-General of the UN."

But he added, “Despite the concerns of the Secretary-General, these executions were continued on March 2, when 10 more prisoners were executed."

Ghaemi said his group understands that the latest group of executed prisoners included Afghans and Africans.

He said that such prisoners typically are unaware of the date of their execution until the last moment.
Former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich has applied for asylum in the Czech Republic.
A former Belarusian presidential candidate who fled the country this week after claiming he was tortured in jail has applied for asylum in the Czech Republic.

A spokesman for the Czech Foreign Ministry, Vit Kolar, confirmed that Ales Mikhalevich was in the Czech Republic awaiting the result of his asylum request.

"At the moment he is waiting in a center for asylum seekers for the result of his asylum request," Kolar said.

Vladimir Repka, a spokesman for the Czech Interior Ministry, said that process could take three months or longer.

Mikhalevich on March 14 wrote on his blog that he had left Belarus in defiance of an order barring him from leaving town.

He and several other opposition presidential candidates, along with hundreds of their supporters, were arrested in December while protesting the results of the presidential election, which they say was rigged to secure incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka's victory.

Last month, Mikhalevich compared the KGB pretrial detention center where he was held for two months to a concentration camp.

He also said he had to sign an agreement on collaborating with the KGB in order to secure his release from the detention center on February 19.

Two other former presidential candidates -- Andrey Sannikau and Mikalay Statkevich -- remain in custody. A third, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu, is under house arrest. All have been charged with organizing mass disturbances.

Meanwhile, the EU's foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in a declaration today condemned "the continued detention, trials, and sentencing on political grounds" in Belarus.

She also called for Belarus to reverse its decision not to renew the mandate of the office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Minsk.

Read more in Belarusian here

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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