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TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian human rights lawyer has launched an appeal for money to help avert the executions of juvenile offenders in the Islamic Republic, saying $200,000 (121,000 pounds) could spare the lives of four young people now on death row.
Under Iran's Islamic law, sharia, the family of a murder victim can pardon the convicted killer in exchange for financial compensation, so-called blood money, although they can also refuse it and demand the death penalty. For most people in Iran it would be difficult to raise the amount needed on their own.
Iran has executed at least 42 juvenile criminals since 1990, according to rights groups which say Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only other countries to put juveniles to death. Iran says it carries out the death penalty only when a prisoner reaches 18.
"Right now a few of my clients who committed crimes when they were under 18 are awaiting execution ... By collecting 200 million tomans ($200,000), you can save the lives of three to four youngsters," lawyer Mohammad Mostafaie said on his website.
Mostafaie, a well known rights activist, said he had set up an account for collecting the funds, urging Iranians living both inside and outside the country to help.
Iran earlier this month hanged one of Mostafaie's clients, a man who was under 18 when he stabbed a boy to death. One Iranian news agency said the victim's parents helped to carry out the execution of their son's convicted killer.
Behnoud Shojaie was put to death in a Tehran jail a month after the European Union urged Iran to halt his execution, which had been postponed several times. Iranian officials said they had tried in vain to convince the victims' parents to spare him.
Amnesty International has said Shojaie intervened to stop a fight between a friend and another boy, and stabbed the other boy with a shard of glass after being threatened with a knife. It says he was 17 at the time of the crime four years ago.
Amnesty has listed Iran as the world's second most prolific executioner in 2008 after China, and says it put to death at least 346 people last year.
Last month, the presidency of the 27-nation EU said it was "deeply concerned" by reports of the imminent executions of Shojaie and two other juvenile offenders, saying they would be a direct contravention of Iran's international commitments.
Condemning "the continued widespread occurrence of death sentences and executions" in Iran, the Swedish EU presidency urged it to halt the planned executions.
Iranian officials reject accusations of human rights violations and accuse the West of double standards. Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran's sharia law, practised since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Mark Trevelyan)