FILE: Majid Kavousifar and Hossein Kavousifar, his nephew, the killers of a judge who had jailed several reformist dissidents, hang from the cable of a crane in Tehran in this August 2, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Between Jan. 1 and July 15, the Iranian government executed 694 people, according to a report released Wednesday by Amnesty International. The executions marked an "unprecedented" surge in the use of the death penalty in Iran, the organization noted, adding that Iran was now on a path to soon surpass the total number of executions carried out in the whole of 2014.

In a country where the death sentence can be given out for a wide variety of overly broad offenses, Amnesty warned, many of these executions may have been unwarranted.

“The Iranian authorities should be ashamed of executing hundreds of people with complete disregard for the basic safeguards of due process,” Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program said in a statement.“The use of the death penalty is always abhorrent, but it raises additional concerns in a country like Iran where trials are blatantly unfair.”

Amnesty's figures contradict the Iranian state's own figures, which put the number at 246. However, Amnesty says that "many more judicial executions are carried out but not acknowledged" and that its own figures were confirmed by credible reports.

In 2014, Amnesty reported that Iran had executed at least 743 people, a figure that led Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on Iran, to note that “Iran continues to execute more individuals per capita than any country in the world." Amnesty says that this year the country might end up executing more than 1,000 if current trends continue.

Faraz Sanei, an Iran researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that while his own organization doesn't track execution figures in the same way, it was confident that Amnesty's figures were accurate. Sanei also pointed to another report released by UN experts that found as many as 98 prisoners had been executed in 17 days during April.

Even if you only use Iran's officially acknowledged figures, it ranks as one of the top executioners in the world, second only to China, which is believed to execute at least a thousand people a year, and just ahead of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the United States. Its geopolitical rival, Saudi Arabia, has also had a surge in executions in 2015, surpassing its figure for last year by May. While it's unclear why either country is executing more people this year than last, activists say that in both countries a large number of people have been executed for drugs offenses.

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