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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Liberal Iranian cleric jailed
Hassan Youssefi Eshkavari [left] at the time of his arrest
Eshkavari [l] was originally given the death sentence

A hardline religious court in Iran has sentenced a prominent liberal cleric to seven years in prison.

Veiled Iranian women
Eshkavari argued the veiling of women should be optional
The main charge against Hassan Youssefi Eshkavari was his rejection of the compulsory veiling of women.

Mr Eshkavari made his remarks at a conference in Germany two years ago about the future of reforms in Iran.

He had originally been given a death sentence on charges of apostasy, but this was overturned by an appeals court in May 2001.

Younger generation

Mr Eshkavari is among a growing number of younger clerics in Iran who have been questioning some of the basic tenets of the traditional concept of Islam.

In a speech in Germany two years ago, he argued that some principles in the Koran were not sacrosanct and should be adapted to the needs of the time.

He said that all Islamic principles relating to what he called social issues could be changed because the prophet Muhammad only sanctioned them for the needs of his era.

Veiling for women, in his opinion, is a paramount example.

Mr Eshkavari argued that the strict Islamic dress code for women should be optional.

Secret trial

This novel interpretation of Islam outraged conservative clerics in the Iranian leadership, who emphasise that the Koran is the word of God and therefore eternal.

Mr Eshkavari's outspoken defence of the separation of state from religion also angered the conservative establishment.

He was originally charged with apostasy and had been given a death sentence by a special clerical court after a secret trial two years ago.

But given that Mr Eshkavari himself is a Muslim believer the blasphemy charge angered the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, and some of the most senior clerics in the country.

Their condemnation of the verdict proved effective and an appeals court later overturned the death sentence.

However, Mr Eshkavari's friends still say that seven years imprisonment for offering a modern interpretation of Islam is still unjustified and harsh.



See also:

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