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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 15:39 GMT
Iran hardliners call for academic's death
Hardline demonstrators
Hardliners called for the academic to be hanged
About 1,000 people have demonstrated in the Iranian capital, Tehran, in support of the death sentence handed to a dissident academic who criticised the country's Islamic clergy.

After Friday prayers, protesters called for Hashem Aghajari's execution, many of them dubbing him "Iran's Salman Rushdie".

Hashem Aghajari in 2000
Hashem Aghajari called for reform within the Islamic clergy
Friday's hardline demonstration follows several days of street protests by thousands of students opposing Mr Aghajari's death sentence.

Iran's reformist President, Mohammed Khatami, has also spoken out against the university lecturer's sentence, describing it as "inappropriate".

But Mr Aghajari has said he is prepared to die and will not appeal against his sentence.

Clergy questioned

Hardline protesters gathered outside the Tehran campus which earlier this week was the scene of pro-reformist rallies.

They chanted "Aghajari should be hanged" and "Iran's Salman Rushdie should be executed" in reference to the British author condemned to death by Iran's former leader Ayatollah Khomeini for his book The Satanic Verses.

But correspondents say even some conservative elements have expressed unease over the academic's sentencing, with some saying the punishment did not correspond to the accusations against him.

Mr Aghajari was convicted of apostasy - renunciation of his religion - for remarks he made in an address in the western Iranian city of Hamedan, calling for reform within the Islamic clergy.

The conservative-dominated judiciary has defended the verdict as "justified".

BBC regional affairs analyst Roger Hardy says the real crime of Mr Aghajari - a history lecturer - is that he questioned the right of the clergy to rule.



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