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A public execution by hanging in Tehran in 2010 (file photo)
Two Iranians have been sentenced to death for drinking alcohol.

The ISNA news agency, in a report published in the "Donya-E-Eqtesad" daily, quotes Hassan Shariati, the judiciary chief of northeastern Khorasan-e Razavi Province, as saying the two people -- who are unidentified -- were repeat offenders.

They had previously been convicted of drinking alcohol twice and lashed 80 times each.

Shariati said the death penalty for the third conviction had been upheld by Iran's Supreme Court.

"We will not show mercy in alcoholic beverage offenses," he said, "and we will sentence the offenders to the harshest letter of the law.”

Executions for violations of Iran's alcohol laws are believed to be rare, however.

Iran's "Shargh" daily reports that the last time an execution was ordered for a repeat offender of the country's alcohol laws, in 2007, the sentence was overturned after the convict expressed contrition.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, under Shari'a law, alcohol consumption has been strictly forbidden in Iran. That hasn't stopped the smuggling of a reported 60 million to 80 million liters of alcohol into the country each year, however.

Alcohol is readily available on the black market, despite the severe penalties.

Iran's police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, is quoted as saying that Iran has some 200,000 alcoholics.

Only members of Iran's Christian minorities are exempt from alcohol laws, but they are required to drink behind closed doors.

As RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari and Mohammad Zarghami reported last week, consumption of alcohol is on the rise in Iran, with the amount of confiscated alcohol increasing by 69 percent in the past year:

Mostafa Eghlima, the head of Iran’s Social Work Society, suggests that drinking alcohol is a means of escape for some Iranians.

"Alcoholic drinks are just one type of tranquilizer," he says. "We live in a society where there is economic pressure, social problems, and high inflation. People escape with alcohol to alleviate the pain.”

The head of the Health Ministry's Policy Making Council, Bagher Larijani, warned last month about "worrying" reports from hospitals and physicians over high alcohol consumption in southern districts of Tehran where poorer families reside.

Other crimes punishable by death in Iran are murder, rape, armed robbery, and drugs trafficking.

According to Amnesty International, Iran executed at least 360 people in 2011, most of them for drug-related offenses.

Press Watchdog Says Iraq Orders Closure Of 44 Media Outlets

A press freedom group in Iraq says a media commission with close ties to the government has ordered the closure of dozens of news organizations.

Hadi Jallo Merei, the president of the Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that the country's Communications and Media Commission has issued a list of 44 foreign and domestic media groups that are operating without proper registration.

The Interior Ministry has ordered police to enforce the closure of all companies on the list.

The list includes U.S.-funded Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language radio station operated by the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, a sister station to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Radio Sawa says it does have a license. Deputy Director Salah Nasrawi told AP that he was surprised to see the station on the list but said it could be a bureaucratic error.

The Iraqi media commission has denied the measure is meant as a widespread crackdown against the press.

But press watchdog groups have accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of seeking to muzzle the media in order to consolidate power.

The government has made no official response to the ordered closures.

With reporting by AP and rt.com

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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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