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Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Iran dissident faces death again
Reformist Iranian history professor Hashem Aghajari
Aghajari became a cause celebre for protesters
A regional court in Iran has reimposed the death penalty on a prominent dissident, Hashem Aghajari.

Mr Aghajari was sentenced to death in November 2002 for apostasy, after he spoke out against Iran's mullahs and called for a "religious renewal".

The sentence sparked the largest student protest for years, and it was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Now the court in Hamedan province has upheld its original verdict and sent the case back to the higher court.

"The sentence is not final," said his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht.

Mr Aghajari is currently being held in Evin prison in Tehran, where he is serving a four-year sentence imposed in place of the death penalty by the Supreme Court.

He has also been appealing against that sentence.

Rallying call

After reviewing the case, an official from the regional court said that "the judge has... maintained his original decision... there was nothing new in the file".

The official said the case would now be sent back to the supreme court.

Mr Aghajari, a history professor at a Tehran college, made a speech in August 2002, which was a seen as an attack on the country's Islamic establishment and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Khamenei.

He said that Muslims were not "monkeys" and "should not blindly follow" the clerics.

As well as the death sentence for apostasy and insulting the early imams, he received further sentences of a 10-year ban on teaching, eight years in jail and 74 lashes for lesser offences.

After student protests, Ayatollah Khamenei was forced to step in and order a review of his verdict.

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

Profile: Hashem Aghajari
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