Date: 5/5/2004



Death Sentence Reimposed on Iran Professor

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran - 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 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, the province's chief judiciary official, Zekrollah Ahmadi, said.

However, "the Supreme Court has to look again at the verdict," Ahmadi said in a phone interview.

Aghajari's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told the AP on Monday: "The sentence is not final." He did not elaborate.

Earlier Monday, Khatami 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."

A history professor at a Tehran teachers' college, Aghajari 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, and the demonstrations 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 give him four years in prison.

He is currently jailed at 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 President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites), who seeks to liberalize Iran, and hard-liners who uphold a strict interpretation of Islam throughout society.