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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Iran dissident rejects retrial
Hashem Aghajari
Professor Aghajari questioned the power of Iran's clerics
A leading Iranian reformist, Hashem Aghajari, has refused to attend the first day of his retrial for blasphemy in the north-western city of Hamedan.

Mr Aghajari, a university professor, also said he will not allow his lawyer to present his defence unless a Supreme Court ruling to open proceedings to the public is adopted.

His lawyer told the BBC that in view of strong local feeling against his client, he has asked for the case to be transferred to Tehran.

Last year, the court in Hamedan sentenced Mr Aghajari to death for a controversial speech in which he urged Muslims not to blindly follow Iran's powerful clerics.

After widespread protests, in particular among university students, the sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court, which said Mr Aghajari must be retried by the same court that ordered his execution.

'Iran's Rushdie'

Mr Aghajari enraged conservatives in June last year, 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".

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

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 Mr Aghajari, 45, who lost a leg in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

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