TEHRAN, May 23 May (IPS) Official authorities of the Islamic Republic acknowledged Tuesday the hanging of Air Force serviceman Mohammad Reza Pedram on charges of spying for the United States as well as the stoning of a woman accused of starring in pornographic video movies.

Mr. Pedram, 56, was hanged in Tehran's Evin prison at dawn on Sunday after the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence passed against him by a military court, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported, quoting the private Iranian Students News agency ISNA.

In a communiqué issued in Tehran on Sunday, a copy of it faxed to Iran Press Service, both the National Union of Iranian Students and Alumni (NUISA) and the Iranian Students Committee for the Defence of Political Prisoners reported the execution of Mr. Pedram, but was not confirmed by the authorities.

The leader of NUISA, Mr. Manoochehr Mohammadi as well as his younger brother, Mohammad, are in prison, sentenced to 13 and 15 years, charged for propaganda against the Islamic Republic and contacts with Iranian "counter-revolutionaries, including Monarchists", abroad.

The Organisation for the Defence of Democracy, another Iranian students organisation had alerted international organisations about ten days ago, when he was separated from jailed students and transferred to a special section, but none of them, including foreign radio stations with programs in Persian language paid attention.

In a letter dated 15 May to the attention of Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General, The United Nations, Mrs. Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mr. Maurice Danby Copithorne, the UN Special Representative on Iran, Mr. Hanny Megally, Director of Middle East Watch and Mr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director, Amnesty International, About Iran, a US-based Iranian human rights group had asked them for their "most urgent action" for saving the life of Mr. Pedram, "held at Evin prison in Tehran and is reportedly in imminent danger of execution".

"According to the news, Mr. Pedram was escorted out of his prison cell during the early hours of May 14, 2001, en route to his imminent execution within 48 hours!

His cellmates who were crying in sympathy for Mr. Pedram as he was taken out of his cell have reported this disturbing news.

IRNA quoted a report by the Judicial Organisation of Armed Forces (JOAF) as saying that Mr. Pedram had admitted "acting against Iran's Islamic regime" for 10 years, from 1986 to1996.

According to JOAF, Mr. Pedram had defected in 1986, during the 1980-1988 war against Iraq, and travelled to the United States "where he was hired by the CIA," the Central Intelligence Agency.

"He was arrested in 1996 when he tried to enter Iran using a false passport, the agency said, adding that Mr. Pedram was court-martialled and sentenced to death.

It said the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence, handed down against Pedram after being tried in a military court.

But Mr. Pedram’s family, who lives in the United States, and other informed sources, including some Iranian human rights activists and students organisations, rejected the charges as "totally absurd and baseless".

They said Mr. Pedram, while in Turkey on a trip aimed at meeting some of his families stayed back in Iran, was contacted by agents of the Islamic Republic and convinced to return to his homeland, after being assured that he would get a pardon from the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, who, among other responsibilities, is also the Supreme Commander of all Iranian Armed Forces.

The executed officer had left Iran clandestinely in 1986 for the United States, accompanied by his wife and children.

His case was a reminder of that of Air Force Colonel Siavash Bayani who was executed in 1997 on the same charges of spying for the CIA, three years after he returned to Iran from the United States.

Espionage for foreign powers, particularly the US and Israel carries death penalty under Islamic Republic laws.

Tehran often accuses both Washington and Tel-Aviv subversives activities aimed at toppling the Islamic Republic.

Several Iranian rights groups strongly condemned the execution of Mr. Pedram, denouncing it as a "barbaric act" by the Islamic Republic and have called on all international human rights organisations to act "in defence of many more prisoners of conscience in Iran".

The execution of Mr. Pedram is likely to further complicate inexistent relations between Tehran and Washington, with rights organisations and the public opinion calling on the Bush Administration to tighten sanctions against the Islamic Republic, where authorities also admitted to the stoning of a woman accused of moral corruption.

According to "Entekhab", a moderate pro-conservative daily, the unidentified victim was stoned Sunday, after it was found that she was acting in locally made pornographic movies.

Observers noted that though killing women by the Islamic process of stoning takes place in Iranian prisons, but this is the first time that such news is carried by the media.

This is also the first time that the authorities acknowledge not only the existence of porno videos in Iran, but also the fact that some of them are made in Iran itself.

However, the paper did not say whether the woman was dead.

Informed sources said out of some 300.000 to 400.000 video-cassettes that circulates clandestinely in Iranian homes, reaching even remote villages, at least 10 to 15 per cent of them are hard porno, smuggled into the country, some of them made by Iranians in Los Angeles, others copied from TV sex shows and reproduced in Iran on a large scale. ENDS PEDRAM EXECUTED 23501