IRAN

Executions highest in over a decade, U.N. envoy says

Iran executed more people last year than it had in the previous 12 years, the United Nations' special envoy on Iranian human rights reported Thursday.

Ahmed Shaheed said Iran carried out at least 753 executions in 2014, up from 687 in 2013 and 580 in 2012. Nearly half of the executions were for drug-related crimes, he said, and he questioned whether they would meet the internationally accepted norm for death penalty cases of "most serious crimes."

He urged Iran to nullify death sentences against political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, ban juvenile executions, and "enforce a complete moratorium" on the death penalty.

Shaheed's comments on the death sentences came in a harshly critical report that rebuked Iran for a variety of abuses, including torture and persecution of religious minorities. The report will be formally presented to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday.

- McClatchy Newspapers

SYRIA

War brings dark times

More than 80 percent of the lights in Syria have been extinguished in the last four years, according to humanitarian agencies that warn that the country's devastating civil war is pushing its people into the dark ages - literally and figuratively. Scientists based at Wuhan University in China analyzed satellite images that showed the number of lights visible at night over Syria between March 2011 and February 2014. They estimate that 83 percent are gone, evidence of the war's massive destruction.
   - Los Angeles Times

RUSSIA

Putin blamed for killing

The daughter of Russian activist Boris Nemtsov says that President Vladimir Putin is "politically" responsible for her father's death. In an interview in Italy broadcast Wednesday night with the BBC, Zhanna Nemtsova said that her father was "a critic of Putin, he fought with Putin, with nobody else," and said she blamed the president for his death. "After his death the opposition is beheaded and everybody is frightened," she said.    - AP