Iran is Unlikely to Hang Dissident Aghajari-Lawyer
May 15, 2004
TEHRAN -- Iranian reformist academic Hashem Aghajari, whose death sentence for blasphemy in 2002 led to mass protests, is unlikely to be executed although a provincial court has upheld the sentence, his lawyer said on Saturday.
"The death sentence will definitely be quashed by the Supreme Court, if legal principles are taken into account," Aghajari's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told Reuters.
Iranian newspapers on Saturday reported Zekrollah Ahmadi, judiciary chief in the western province of Hamadan where the sentence was reviewed, as saying Aghajari's case had been sent to the Supreme Court although no appeal had been lodged.
Aghajari himself has refused to appeal against the sentence, effectively challenging the hardline judiciary to hang him for saying Muslims should not blindly follow senior clerics "like monkeys."
Shi'ite Muslims have to follow the decrees of senior clerics. By debating this point Aghajari, a history lecturer, questioned the entire system of clerical rule.
Students staged mass protests when Aghajari's sentence was first handed down in November 2002, prompting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to call for a review of the case.
A provincial judge in Hamadan, carrying out the review, insisted on the death sentence in a closed-door session.
Some 600 people gathered on Tuesday at Tehran University to criticize the hardline judiciary's treatment of Aghajari, who lost a leg in the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.
His death sentence has been widely denounced in Iran, even by some Islamic conservatives who said it was a gift to reformists and Iran's Western enemies.
In a rare direct criticism this month, pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami condemned Aghajari's "unjust death sentence" and said the judge who issued it was "inexperienced."