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Iran Halts Execution Of Seven People

Iran's new chief of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's new judiciary chief halted the planned execution on August 19 of seven convicted criminals, including a man who was under 18 when he stabbed a boy to death, Iranian news agencies reported.

The move was announced four days after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani as the new head of the Islamic republic's judiciary, one of the country's most powerful positions.

Amnesty International has listed Iran as the world's second most prolific executioner in 2008 after China, and says it executed at least 346 people last year.

Human rights groups have also criticized Iran for sentencing minors to death. Iran says it only carries out the death penalty when a prisoner reaches the age of 18.

"Seven convicts, including my client Behnoud Shojaie, were scheduled to be executed in Evin prison this morning," the ILNA news agency quoted lawyer Mohammad Mostafaie as saying.

"Upon the order of the judiciary chief, the execution of my client and the other six convicts were canceled," he said.

Later Date?

The ISNA news agency also carried the lawyer's comments. It was not clear whether the executions would go ahead at a later date.

Amnesty has said Shojaie intervened to stop a fight between a friend and another boy, and stabbed the other boy with a shard of glass after being threatened with a knife. It says he was 17 at the time of the crime four years ago. His execution was postponed at least once last year.

Larijani, a brother of parliament speaker Ali Larijani and a member of Iran's hard-line constitutional watchdog the Guardians Council, replaced Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi whose 10-year term has ended.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran's Shari'a law, practiced since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran rejects accusations it is violating human rights and accuses the West of double standards and hypocrisy.

Iran has executed at least 42 juvenile criminals since 1990, including seven in 2007, according to rights groups which say Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only two other countries to do so.