ROME (Reuters) - Iran must stop executing and persecuting protesters and should open a dialogue with them, Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Wednesday after summoning the Iranian ambassador.
Tajani said death sentences against people who take part in demonstrations or women who refuse to wear headscarves were a grossly disproportionate and unacceptable form of punishment.
"Taking off a veil or participating in a protest is not a crime that can lead to the death penalty anywhere in the world," he said.
Nationwide unrest erupted in Iran three months ago after the death in detention of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic's mandatory dress code laws.
The protests mark one of the boldest challenges to Iran's leadership since its 1979 revolution and have drawn in Iranians from all walks of life.
Iranian authorities have cracked down hard on the protests, which they say are riots fomented by foreign adversaries.
Iran hanged two protesters earlier this month: Mohsen Shekari, 23, who was accused of blocking a main road in September and wounding a member of the paramilitary Basij force with a knife, and Majid Reza Rahnavard, 23, who was accused of stabbing to death two Basij members, and publicly hanged from a construction crane.
Rights group HRANA says about 18,500 people have been arrested during the unrest. Government officials say most have been released.
HRANA also says that as of Dec. 25, 507 protesters had been killed, including 69 minors, as well as 66 members of the security forces.
Meanwhile, Britain urged Iran to stop detaining dual nationals following the arrest of seven people with links to the United Kingdom, saying the practice should not be used to obtain "diplomatic leverage".
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Gavin Jones and Alison Williams)