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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 22:26 GMT
Iran academic sent back to death court
Hashem Aghajari
Professor Aghajari questioned the power of Iran's clerics
The Iranian university professor whose death sentence for apostasy was quashed last week is to be retried by the same court that ordered his execution.

A spokesman for the judiciary said Hashem Aghajari, who was given the death penalty last November for questioning the rule of the clerics in Iran, could even face the same punishment.
It's possible that the new verdict will be the same as the original one

Gholamhussein Elham, judicial spokesman

Monday's announcement on the fate of Mr Aghajari was made by newly appointed judicial spokesman, Gholamhussein Elham.

"It's the court of first instance (in the western city of Hamedan) ... which must correct procedural failings and issue a new judgement," Mr Elham told the official IRNA news agency.

"It's possible that the new verdict will be the same as the original one."

Mr Elham's comments will come as no surprise to many observers in Teheran, BBC correspondent Miranda Eeles said.

He is seen as a right-winger even within the conservative-dominated judiciary.

He was appointed after his predecessor, Hussein Sadeghi, controversially resigned in December in protest at Mr Aghajari's sentence.

'Too harsh'

According to one of the judges, they voted to revoke the death penalty, saying the charges were incompatible with the sentence.

Mr Aghajari's case caused widespread protest last year, in particular amongst university students.
Reformist students
Students demonstrated against the death sentence

For more than a month thousands demonstrated on campuses all over the country calling for his release but also for political reform.

Observers in Teheran have so far doubted the death penalty would ever be carried out. Monday's statement is likely to confuse matters further, our correspondent says.

'Iran's Rushdie'

For his remarks in June, Mr Aghajari was also sentenced to 74 lashes, banned from teaching for 10 years and banished to three remote cities for eight years.

Mr Aghajari enraged conservatives when he said that Muslims should not uncritically follow the line laid down by Islamic clerics "like monkeys".

He questioned why clerics alone had the right to interpret Islam, which led many to accuse him of being "Iran's Salman Rushdie".

Iran's parliament denounced the death sentence as "disgusting" and President Mohammad Khatami also condemned it.

Human rights group Amnesty International has taken up the case of Professor Aghajari, a 45-year-old veteran who lost a leg in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

See also:

02 Dec 02 | Middle East
07 Nov 02 | Middle East
26 Nov 02 | Middle East
10 Dec 02 | Middle East
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
25 Nov 02 | Middle East
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