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Iranian police officers prepare a hanging rope.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that Iranian officials are trying to head off a looming economic crisis with threats of "new rights-abusing policies," including applying the death penalty for economic crimes.

"Executions, an inhumane and inherently irreversible punishment, are never the answer, and in this case can only distract from other causes of this economic turmoil," the New York-based rights watchdog said in an August 10 statement.

Iran has faced growing economic difficulties since the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers in May, fueling a crash in the value of the national currency, the rial.

The United States on August 7 reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy that were lifted under the nuclear deal in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program. A second round of penalties is due to come into effect in early November.

Meanwhile, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, as well as a number of hard-liner lawmakers and newspapers have called for executing people found responsible for contributing to the country's economic woes, which have triggered street protests in Tehran and other cities.

"Today, officials increasingly talk about the need to combat corruption at every level," HRW said. "Yet to do so requires an independent judiciary that ensures due process rights for all those accused."

The group added that the Iranian judiciary's "long record of violating detainees' rights and wanton application of the death penalty raises grave concerns."

Iran has sentenced to death and executed several people on "vague fraud charges with little transparency or due process," according to HRW.

It cited the case of Babak Zanjani, a wealthy businessman who is currently on death row on charges of withholding more than $2 billion in oil revenue channeled through his companies.

Iran is one of the world's leading executioners. Amnesty International said in April that 507 people were executed in the country last year, including at least five juvenile offenders.

Jailed Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov in his cell on August 9, 2018.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) has denied the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, on hunger strike in a Russian prison for nearly three months, has lost 30 kilograms.

In a statement quoted by the TASS news agency on August 11, the FSIN said "As of today he is not seen to be underweight and a worsening in his state of health is not observed."

The statement comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron raised the plight of Sentsov during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin promised "to respond and quickly release details on Sentsov's health," the French presidency said.

On August 10, the European Union urged Russian authorities to move Sentsov to a medical facility and give him appropriate medical care.

Sentsov's lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, said on August 10 that Sentsov is "ready to die" and after visiting him on August 7 told AFP that he had lost 30 kilograms.

In its August 11 statement, the FSIN specifically referred to the 30-kilogram weight-loss figure, claiming "this information does not correspond to reality."

The service said it "is taking all the necessary measures" to maintain Sentsov's state of health and that he does not require emergency hospitalization.

A vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 takeover of Crimea, Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted by a Russian court in 2015 of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, charges he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

Sentsov, 42, is being held in a penal colony in the city of Labytnangi in Russia's northern region of Yamalo-Nenets, where he has been on hunger strike since mid-May demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.

He has vowed to continue his protest to the end.

Macron has already brought up Sentsov's case several times with Putin, including during a visit to St. Petersburg in May.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogehrini, said in a statement that the 28-member bloc expects Russia "to provide him with appropriate treatment in an institutionalized medical setting."

"The European Union expects international human rights standards on the [Crimean] peninsula to be upheld and all illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimean Peninsula to be released without delay," the EU statement said.

Sentsov is being currently sustained with water and a drip with glucose and vitamins. Besides losing 30 kilograms, Dinze also said earlier this week that his client's heart rate has slowed and his red blood cell levels were very low.

A cousin of Sentsov said on August 8 that the filmmaker is in a "catastrophically bad" state and could be close to death.

Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said on August 9 that "rapid actions" are needed to save Sentsov's life.

Several governments and prominent figures have called on Putin to pardon Sentsov, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said the inmate would have to ask for a pardon himself before it could be considered.

Sentsov has said he would not ask for a pardon because he has not committed a crime.

With reporting by AFP and Interfax

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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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