An Iranian-American human rights group says the Iranian government has stepped up its campaign against pro-democracy dissidents, women and minorities with the staging of some 120 public hangings, and the arrest and imprisonment of more than 40 journalists. Members of the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates say that in the past year, the Islamic fundamentalist regime has been taking extreme measures to silence reform efforts.

The non-profit group cites as evidence of the government's tactics an Amnesty International report of the public execution of a 16-year-old girl for "acts incompatible with chastity." Atefeh Rajabi was reportedly hanged in the Northern city center of Neka on August 15.

Iranian authorities have also detained journalist and rights advocate Emadeddin Baghi and seized his passport at Tehran airport. As a result, Mr. Baghi is unable to come to New York this week to accept an award for civil courage.

Haydar Akbari is president of the National Coalition. He says human rights violations have increased since Iran's Islamic hardliners won control of the 290-member parliament by a landslide in the February 2004 elections.

"They closed the whole atmosphere of freedom regarding even the freedom of clothing and scarves, freedom of music, CDs, DVDs," he said. "The atmosphere is totally different from last year. Since January, more than 100 people were openly hanged, and many journalists, many writers, many intellectuals have been imprisoned and tortured."

Mohammed Alafchi, president of the New York Iranian-American Association, says that as the United Nations' General Assembly begins its sessions, his organization is trying to bring media attention to the escalation of human rights abuses.

"The hardliners are grabbing all the powers from all different parts of the country and they are consolidating their powers, and they are stepping up their campaign against any freedom that people have," he added.

Last November, a key United Nations committee approved a Canadian-drafted resolution rebuking Iran for human rights abuses, including torture, suppression of free speech and discrimination against women and minorities.

VOA was unable to get a response to the coalition's charges from the Iranian mission to the United Nations. But in the past, spokesmen for the Iranian government have routinely rejected such criticism, saying it fully supports the human rights of its citizens.