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Sunday, 17 November, 2002, 14:51 GMT
Iran reviews liberal's death sentence
Hashem Aghajari speaking at Tehran University in 1999
Aghajari is a strong ally of President Khatami
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered a review of the death sentence passed on liberal academic Hashem Aghajari.

Public protests erupted last week over the sentence, imposed in a closed trial by judges who found Mr Aghajari guilty of renouncing Islam.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mohammed Khatami
Leader: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Power: The real power in Iran. Controls the hard-line Guardians Council, which approves all laws, the judiciary and armed forces
Where they stand: Committed to Islamic revolution. Opposed to any reduction in their powers and normalisation of relations with the US

Leader: President Mohammed Khatami
Power: Control the parliament and enjoy widespread popular support
Where they stand:
Back greater democracy, reducing the power of the Guardians Council, and reform to the legal system

Mr Aghajari had said in a speech that each generation should re-interpret aspects of Islam rather than blindly follow religious leaders.

Violence erupted at Tehran University on Sunday when members of the hardline Basij militia attacked a student meeting called in support of Mr Aghajari and freedom of speech.

About 200 Basij members stormed into an auditorium in the north of the city began throwing chairs and smashing tables as a student activist made a speech in defence of the academic to an audience of some 600 people.

The violence continued for about 10 minutes before the rival groups spilled outside, where the Aghajari supporters chanted "Death to the Taleban in Kabul and Tehran" while the Basij responded with slogans against "enemies of the revolution".

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the confrontation during which police reportedly kept a distance.

Thousands of Iranian students have recently held peaceful demonstrations on campuses in support of Mr Aghajari, who lectures in history.

On Friday, in counter-protests, about 1,000 people called for his execution, many of them dubbing him "Iran's Salman Rushdie".

New target

Reformists see Mr Aghajari's prosecution as the latest in a long line of moves against liberal figures by the hard-line judiciary.

The BBC's Jim Muir reports that it was unthinkable in Iran that the death sentence on Mr Aghajari would actually be carried out.

He is a war veteran who lost a leg in the 1980-88 war with Iraq and belongs to a left-wing reformist political group, the Islamic Revolutionary Mujahidin Organisation.

His sentence has been criticised by Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who has no power over the judiciary.

Ayatollah Khamenei earlier issued a veiled warning that he might have to call on the "the forces of the people" if the country's governing structures could not handle major problems.

The BBC's Miranda Eeles
"Hashem Aghajari has refused to appeal saying he is ready to die"
See also:

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