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.