United Nations (Agencies): Following reports of 66 executions in Iran last month, UN has expressed alarm at the rate of death penalty being doled out in the country.

"We have urged Iran, time and again, to halt executions," stated High Commissioner Navi Pillay. "I am very dismayed that instead of heeding our calls, the Iranian authorities appear to have stepped up the use of the death penalty."

She pointed out three cases in which political activists, convicted of 'mohared' or enmity against God, were hanged.

"Dissent is not a crime," said the human rights chief noting that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to free expression and to free association.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for individuals to be imprisoned for association with opposition groups, let alone be executed for their political views or affiliations," added the High Commissioner.

Pillay also criticised the two instances of public executions and reiterated Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's view that "executions in public add to the already cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty and can only have a dehumanising impact on the victim and a brutalising effect on those who witness the execution."

The High Commissioner asked Iran to establish a "moratorium" on executions with a view to abolishing death penalty. "As Iran is no doubt aware, the international community as a whole is moving towards abolition of the death penalty in law or in practice," she said.

Currently, there are 56 countries that execute people including India, according to human right groups. The vast majority of executions worldwide were carried out in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and United States.