updated 1/30/2008 3:10:51 PM ET 2008-01-30T20:10:51

Iran's chief judge has ordered that executions will no longer take place in public, the official IRNA news agency reported Wednesday.

Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a moderate conservative cleric, also banned publishing pictures and broadcasting video footage of executions, the report said.

Executions can now only be carried out in public after special approval by the head of the judiciary, the report said.

Since the start of this year, Iran has hanged more than 20 people convicted of murder, rape and drug smuggling. In the second half of last year, it executed more than 55 people, mostly in the open.

On Monday, state television broadcast footage showing two men after their hanging in the central Iranian city of Arak. It said they were convicted of serial rape and murder of women.

Shahroudi has made other surprising decisions in the past. In 2004, he ordered a ban on the use of torture in obtaining confessions — a decision widely seen as the first public acknowledgment of the practice of torture in Iran.

He also opened the doors to Iran's infamous Evin prison in 2006. That offered international media their first glimpse inside the compound, where torture, forced confessions and floggings have reportedly taken place.

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