Iranian dissident says reforms at an end

One of Iran's most prominent dissidents, jailed academic Hashim Aghajari, has warned his country that the reformist movement has now reached a dead end and passive resistance is now the only option.

    Students, holding pictures of dissident, call for his release

    His open letter, published by the student news agency ISNA, comes just days before parliamentary elections overshadowed by the mass disqualification of pro-reform candidates by the Islamic republic's powerful religious hardliners.

    "Organising an unfree election is an end point for reforms within the regime," wrote Aghajari, who was condemned to death for blasphemy in 2002 after he questioned the Shia clergy's right to rule.

    "We are witnessing a comical repetition of history: in a very short period of time, the democratic face of the Iranian constitution is going to be turned into an autocratic face," wrote the dissident, who is jailed pending a review of his case.

    "The current generation should be given the right to choose their own structure of government and constitution," said the academic. "The Iranian people should ..., with passive resistance, tell the totalitarians: No".

    Khatami slammed

    But Aghajari also hit out at embattled pro-reform President Muhammad Khatami, who faces seeing his allies in parliament ousted by conservatives on Friday and holding office as a lame-duck leader until his second and final term ends in 2005.

    The dissident claims people are
    disappointed in President Khatami

    "Alongside this comical repetition of history we are also witnessing a tragedy: the tragedy of Khatami," he wrote.

    "During the six years that have elapsed for the reformist government and the four years of the reformist parliament, because of a lack of will and courage great opportunities were missed."

    Khatami, the dissident wrote, "has reached a point where people are disappointed in him."

    "People have discovered that, after six years of this experience, the preservation of the status quo will bring no developments or reforms."

    Religious renewal

    In the summer of 2002, the disabled war veteran and history professor delivered an explosive speech in the western city of Hamedan directed at the very core of Iran's 25-year-old Islamic regime.

    Ayat Allah Khamenei demanded
    Aghajari's sentence be reviewed

    Aghajari called for a "religious renewal" of Shiasm, espoused a major structural shake-up in Iran's religion of state, and asserted that Muslims were not "monkeys" and "should not blindly follow" religious leaders.
    For powerful hardliners, those comments were seen as a frontal assault on the Shia doctrine of emulation and the status of Ayat Allah Ali Khamenei as Iran's supreme leader.

    In November 2002, a judge in Hamedan ruled that Aghajari had committed blasphemy and, in line with Islamic and Iranian law, deserved to die.

    Case to be re-examined

    But following a week of protests by students and complaints by reformist government officials, Khamenei stepped in and demanded the sentenceshould be reviewed. In January 2003, the supreme court annulled the verdict and ordered a re-trial.

    "People have discovered that, after six years of this experience, the preservation of the status quo will bring no developments or reforms"

    Hashim Aghajari
    Iranian dissident

    Last month, the hardline judiciary said Aghajari's case would be re-examined after the parliamentary elections in order to "preserve calm", and the dissident acknowledged his open letter might make his predicament worse.

    "There is a probability I will be under more pressure after the publication of this letter.  Nevertheless, I made the promise to God and my own nation and I am sure that in the combat of Islam, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and peace against Taliban Islam, despotism, totalitarianism, violence, war and terrorism, the victory will be with the first party."



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