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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 18:03 GMT
Iran reformists step up protests
Students at rally - third day of protests
Students held a third day of protests on Monday

There is continuing political uproar in Iran over the death sentence for apostasy passed last week on Hashem Aghajari, a liberal academic, for remarks he made in a speech criticising the Islamic clergy.

Students in Tehran and elsewhere have held protest rallies and there has been a chorus of condemnation and criticism, even from some conservative quarters.

The condemned man is a war veteran, who belongs to one of the reformist factions.

Hashem Aghajari in 2000
Hashem Aghajari criticised the Islamic clergy
The furore over Mr Aghajari's death sentence is gathering in intensity.

Hundreds of students rallied on one of the university campuses in Tehran to condemn the verdict.

There were similar protests at two other universities in the provinces.

Close down

But there have been no reports of violence, no arrests and no trouble on the streets.

The main student movement is planning to escalate the protest though; it wants universities all over the country to close down next Monday and it is seeking support for the move from faculty staff as well as students.

The students and others are demanding Mr Aghajari's unconditional release, on the grounds that the prosecution over his beliefs should never have taken place.
Students at rally holding portrait of Hashem Aghajari - third day of protests
Students are demanding the academic's unconditional release

The death sentence has been defended by the local judiciary in the town of Hamedan where the trial took place.

But it has turned into a political booby trap for the conservatives and has found precious little support, even in the most right wing newspapers.

Lifeline

There is broad recognition in conservative circles that it is an embarrassing disaster, which could provide the reformists with a much needed rallying cry.

One leading right wing commentator said it had thrown them a lifeline.

It has even been suggested the judge was a fifth columnist, working on behalf of the reformists.

There is mounting pressure on the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene before the repercussions snowball further.

Nobody believes Mr Aghajari will actually be executed.

It is just a question of the timing and the manner of his reprieve and how much benefit the reformists will be able to reap in the meantime.

See also:

09 Nov 02 | Middle East
07 Nov 02 | Middle East
10 Nov 02 | Middle East
02 Nov 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
06 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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