Iran has hit back at a United Nations report criticising the high number of death sentences in the country, saying that 93 percent of executions over the last year involved drug smuggling.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran's Human Rights Council, made the comments in a report posted on the judiciary's website Saturday.

A recent report by the UN said at least 852 people were reportedly executed between July 2013 and June 2014 and called it an alarming increase.

Delegates from many European countries have urged Iran to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty at an ongoing human rights meeting in Geneva.

Iran previously has threatened to allow drug smugglers through its territory to Europe if the West continues to criticise it for executing convicted drug traffickers.

Last week, Iran executed a 26-year-old woman convicted of killing a man whom she said tried to sexually abuse her, despite an international uproar.

Reyhaneh Jabbari was arrested in 2007 for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.

Larijani said he had asked Sarbandi's family to pardon Jabbari, in a move that would have saved her life, and that the family had planned to do so.

'Lack of progress'

The massive media attention and rape allegations had changed their minds, he said, quoting Sarbandi's son as saying the family could not take the "humiliation".

A UN human rights monitor had said the killing of Sarbandi was an act of self-defence after he tried to sexually assault Jabbari, and that her trial in 2009 had been deeply flawed.

Larijani adamantly defended the country's judicial system, insisting: "All nationals of Iran are equal before the law."

He said from Geneva that his country had made great strides in the field of human rights since its last Universal Periodic Review, which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.

Such claims were brushed aside by a range of NGOs, who blasted a lack of progress since Iran's last review in 2010, and condemned discriminatory laws and practises infringing on the rights of women, and religious and ethnic minorities among others.

Source: Agencies