Iranian authorities have responded for the first time to reports of mass executions at Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison, saying foreign media are exaggerating the sentences carried out there.

ISNA reports that Mashahd prosecutor Mahmoud Zoghi said: "Foreign media exaggerate the executions of drug smugglers in Vakilabad Prison."

He added: "Foreign and anti-revolutionary media exaggerate about this issue; meanwhile, one must take into account that because Khorasan Razavi and the city of Mashhad are close to Afghanistan, this province is a chief point of entry for drugs."

He maintained that Khorasan Razavi province and Mashhad deal with more drug charges than any other jurisdiction, and in that light, the number of executions is not inordinately high.

Zoghi said: "According to law, transporting, possessing and dealing more than 30 grams of heroin can bring the death penalty."

In the past year, human rights activists in Iran frequently have reported on mass executions in Vakilabad Prison, contending that the hangings took place in secret and without proper notification to prisoners’ families and attorneys.

Those reports became a focal point of a statement delivered in March by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed grave concern over the surge in the number of executions in Iran.