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Death sentence reimposed on Iranian professor

An Iranian court has reimposed a death sentence on a professor who criticized clerical rule, a judicial official said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Iranian court has reimposed a death sentence on a university professor who criticized clerical rule, a judicial official told The Associated Press on Monday.

The original sentence handed down to the scholar, Hashem Aghajari, in November 2002 provoked the biggest student demonstrations in years and highlighted the power struggle between reformists and conservatives in Iran.

The Supreme Court lifted the death sentence in February 2003, but a court in the western province of Hamedan then reviewed the case and reimposed the sentence, said the province’s chief judiciary official, Zekrollah Ahmadi.

However, “the Supreme Court has to look again at the verdict,” Ahmadi said in a telephone interview.

Aghajari’s lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told the AP: “The sentence is not final.” He did not elaborate.

President criticizes death sentence
Earlier Monday, President Mohammad Khatami, who is considered a reformer, criticized the judge who issued the initial death sentence against Aghajari, saying the professor had done more for the country than “that inexperienced judge who unjustly accused him of apostasy.”

Aghajari, a history professor at Tarbiat Modares University, a teachers college in Tehran, was convicted in 2002 of insulting Islam and questioning the rule of hard-line clerics. He made the remarks in a speech to students in Hamedan, 190 miles southwest of Tehran.

He was sentenced to receive 74 lashes and condemned to death. He was also banned from teaching for 10 years and exiled for eight years.

The sentence sparked violent protests at Tehran University, demonstrations that spread to major campuses around the country.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, succeeded in calming the situation by taking the rare step of ordering the judiciary to reconsider the verdict.

The Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and said the charges were inconsistent with what Aghajari had said in the speech. An appeals court later overturned other parts of the sentence and instead gave him four years in prison.

He is currently in Evin prison in Tehran.

In the latest ruling, the Hamedan court has reinstated only the death sentence, Ahmadi said.

The case was seen as part of the struggle between reformists aligned with Khatami and hard-liners who uphold a strict interpretation of Islam throughout society.