Iranians may spare professor Death sentence brought protests

By Ali Akbar Dareini

Associated Press

Nov. 18, 2002

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's top leader has ordered the country's chief judge to review a reformist scholar's death sentence that has prompted Iran's largest protests in years, a lawyer for the scholar said Sunday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's order means that university professor Hashem Aghajari's death sentence probably will be overturned. He issued the order after hundreds of university teachers wrote to Khamenei asking him to intervene, lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told the Associated Press.

Aghajari was sentenced to death by a court in Hamedan in western Iran on Nov. 6 after being convicted of insulting Islam and questioning the rule of hard-line clerics.

In the past, Khamenei has intervened in judicial matters only after political crises deepen or when he felt Iran's national unity or security endangered.

Aghajari's case has heightened tensions in the power struggle between reformists, many of them students, who seek more social and political freedoms and Islamic hard-liners, who control the police, judiciary and other levers of power.

Student protesters have boycotted classes and denounced Aghajari's verdict as "medieval." Iran's reformist camp said it portrayed Iran as anti-freedom and anti-human rights.

Iran's ruling clerics were enraged by a speech Aghajari gave in June in which he said that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own, without the guidance of clerics.

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