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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
Iranian dissident freed on bail
Hashem Aghajari is welcomed at home by reformist cleric Mohsen Kadivar
Aghajari (left) has repeatedly urged democratic reform in Iran
Leading Iranian dissident Hashem Aghajari, who spent two years in jail facing the death penalty for blasphemy, has been freed on bail.

Mr Aghajari, 47, was sentenced to hang in 2002 after he urged people not to follow their religious leaders blindly.

That verdict provoked the biggest student protests in years, forcing Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei to order a review.

At his second retrial earlier in July, Mr Aghajari was given a five-year term.

Family's joy

The Supreme Court will now rule on how much of time Mr Aghajari must serve out, taking into account the time already spent behind bars.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Khamenei was forced to act in the face of protests
"I hope there will come a day when no-one goes to prison in Iran for his opinions, let alone be sentenced to death," Mr Aghajari said, barely holding back his tears on arrival back at his home in north Tehran.

"I hope that all prisoners of conscience who have committed no crime will be released soon," he said, defying an order to stay silent.

His family and neighbours handed out sweets and fruit juice to celebrate his freedom.

"Finally my dad is free," said his daughter Maryam, while his wife, Zahra Behnoudi, expressed her joy at his release while adding, "I would rather he had been acquitted."

A reformist friend had posted the bail of 970m rials ($113,000), while more than 160 well-wishers, including academics and clerics, had offered to contribute, Mr Aghajari's lawyer said.

Democracy

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 led to his being charged with blasphemy and apostasy.

Hashem Aghajari (left) is welcomed home by his wife Zahra Behnoudi
An emotional reunion for Mr Aghajari and his wife
He said that Muslims were not "monkeys" and "should not blindly follow" the clerics.

After student protests, Ayatollah Khamenei was forced to step in and order a retrial.

During his trials, Mr Aghajari called for democratic reform, telling the court he stood for "an Islam that brings about freedom and is compatible with democracy and human rights."

He 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.


SEE ALSO:
Iranian dissident gets five years
20 Jul 04  |  Middle East
Iran dissident sentence revoked
01 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Iran dissident says reform at end
15 Feb 04  |  Middle East
Iranian academic sentenced to death
07 Nov 02  |  Middle East
Iran death sentence angers reformists
09 Nov 02  |  Middle East
Profile: Hashem Aghajari
09 Jul 03  |  Middle East


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