Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has harshly criticised the human rights record of President Hassan Rouhani, citing a dramatic increase in executions since he took office this year and accusing the government of lying about the release of political prisoners.
She also pointed to spreading support for a hunger strike by human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani and three others in a Tehran prison to protest inadequate medical care, which was joined on Monday by about 80 prisoners at another prison west of the capital.
Ebadi, a US-based human rights lawyer who has since 2009 lived outside Iran in self-exile, said in an interview on Tuesday with The Associated Press news agency that Rouhani may have the reputation of a moderate reformer, but so far "we get bad signals" from the new government when it comes to human rights.
Ebadi expressed outrage at the retaliation that followed the death of 14 border guards in a clash with government opponents on October 25 near the town of Saravan near the border with Pakistan.
The semiofficial Iranian Fars news agency reported that 16 "rebels" were hanged hours later in connection with the attack.
But Ebadi said the prosecutor for the province went on television soon after the attack and announced that 16 prisoners arrested previously, who had nothing to do with the attack, had been executed in retaliation.
And those executions weren't the only ones, she said.
In the last 10 days, 40 people have been executed, including some political prisoners, said the Nobel laureate, and since Rouhani was inaugurated in August, the number of executions has doubled compared with a year ago.
Ebadi said government propaganda claims that dozens of political prisoners have been released.
"This is a big lie," she said. "Twelve or 13 people have been released but these are people who had served their time."
Top opposition figures, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, remain under house arrest.
Ebadi said the only political prisoner released early was prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, winner of the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
She said the government cracks down on human rights because of "fear, but they use religion or abuse religion in order to justify it".
The comments by Ebadi were mostly directed at Rouhani.
They also underscore Iran's internal tensions between Rouhani's government and hardliners opposing appeals for greater liberties such as unblocking social media networks and diplomatic initiatives that include groundbreaking overtures to Washington.
Ebadi also pointed out the limitations of Iran's presidency, which has little control of security or judiciary affairs, which are under the control of the ruling clerics and the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Ebadi pointed to Tehran's largest anti-US rally in years on Monday - the anniversary of the takeover of the US Embassy in 1979 following the Iranian revolution - where tens of thousands of demonstrators chanted "death to America" and burned an American flag.
Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy, becoming the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the prize.
She left Iran just before the disputed 2009 election which gave Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a second term.