Iranian academic refuses retrial defence

An Iranian academic whose death sentence last year resulted in Iran's biggest reform protests for years refused to defend himself on the first day of his retrial for blasphemy.

    Aghajari's retrial of vital interest
    for reformist sympathisers

    Hashem Aghajari, who was sentenced to death  last November for a speech in which he said Muslims were not ‘monkeys’ to blindly follow the teachings of Islamic leaders, objected to the trial taking place behind closed doors.
       
    "As long as the court is not an open court with the presence of legal and theological experts, I will refuse to participate in any court or defend myself," his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht quoted Aghajari as saying.
       
    The court in the western city of Hamadan, however, has said it does not intend to open the sensitive trial to the public.
       
    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered a review of Aghajari's case last year after thousands of students staged frequent rallies and class boycotts to protest his death sentence.
       
    The sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court in February, but Aghajari remains in gaol awaiting the results of the retrial. 
        
    Embarrassment

    Aghajari no longer faces death
    penalty but still accused

    Hashem Aghajari is a war veteran, losing both a leg and a brother in the 1980-88 conflict with Iraq. Even some conservatives seemed embarrassed at the initial death sentence on Aghajari.

    One hard-line commentator, Hossein Shariatmadari, conceded that the harshness of the death sentence had played into the hands of the reformists.

    In a rare criticism of the judiciary, he cast doubt on the contention that someone with Hashem Aghajar’s background could have insulted Prophet Mohammad, a crime in Islam automatically attracting the death penalty.

    "In view of this golden opportunity given to the trend by the judiciary, it must be concluded that the judiciary issued the sentence without any political consideration, because otherwise this golden opportunity and big present would certainly not have been given to the so-called reformist spectrum," he wrote in the afternoon daily Keyhan.


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