Pope Francis on Monday criticised Iran for its use of the death penalty against anti-regime protesters, saying it only “fuels the thirst for vengeance”.
Speaking in an annual address to diplomats at the Vatican, the pontiff condemned Tehran for threatening the right to life by enacting capital punishment, and said the death sentence is “always inadmissible”.
The remarks were his strongest since the protests began in the middle of September. The pope has stayed relatively quiet on Iran's clampdown that has left hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned.
“The right to life is also threatened in those places where the death penalty continues to be imposed, as is the case in these days in Iran, following the recent demonstrations demanding greater respect for the dignity of women,” he said.
“The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported state justice, since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance.”
He made reference to the situation in Iran during his Christmas address, calling for “reconciliation”.
Four people have so far been executed for involvement in the protests, with another two expected to be hanged on Monday.
They were all convicted after speedy trials that have been roundly condemned as illegitimate, sham proceedings.
Two men were hanged on Saturday after they were found guilty of killing a security officer during the protests — an accusation brought against almost all the people on death row.
“These men weren’t executed after a judicial process; they were lynched,” said Hadi Ghaemi of the Centre for Human Rights in Iran.
Fourteen others have been sentenced to death and are at “imminent risk” of execution, the centre said.
International officials once again spoke out against the executions on Monday, with the German government expressing “disgust.”
Berlin will introduce a new series of sanctions on Iran, a government spokesman said on Monday following news of the executions.
“We want to show Iran that its actions come at a price,” Reuters cited them as saying.
Tehran has been handed round after round of sanctions in recent months over its human rights offences and its drone supplies to Russia.
Key members of the judiciary have been placed under sanctions for their involvement in the meting out of capital punishment.
Iran is one of the world's leading countries when it comes to executions, and is also known to hang people for crimes allegedly committed when they were minors.