Iran has issued a first death sentence over protests that have mounted a fierce challenge to four decades of hardline clerical rule, as rights groups warn of a wave of executions may follow as leaders try to end nearly two months of sustained nationwide dissent.

The execution was ordered for an unidentified person for allegedly setting fire to a government building. It followed 272 of Iran’s 290 lawmakers voting earlier this month to implement the death penalty for serious crimes against the state and repeated demands by some officials to take a harder line against unrest that shows little sign of abating.

Iran is believed to execute more people annually than any other country except China, and the first known death sentence passed against a figure identified with the protest movement has alarmed NGOs. Upwards of 326 people have died in 57 days of demonstrations, which erupted after the death of a young woman who was detained for wearing her head dress “inappropriately”. Thousands more have been detained.

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