Iranian dissident spared death sentence

An Iranian dissident scholar who was sentenced to death two years ago for blasphemy has been handed a five-year jail term instead following a retrial.

    Aghajari (R) told students not to 'blindly' follow religious leaders


    Aghajari's lawyer said on

     Tuesday that the verdict proves his client is not an "apostate".

    "I am very happy. I feel very proud that what I said all along

    has been recognised. He was not an apostate and did not insult the


    Saleh Nikbakht

     said, but nevertheless promised to appeal.

    Aghajari was also sentenced to five years' deprivation of his

    social rights, which will commence after his term in prison ends.

    The dissident has already spent nearly two years in jail, which his lawyer

    said would be deducted from the sentence. This means

    Aghajari should be released after one more year behind bars.

    The leftist activist, who lost a leg in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq

    war, sparked the wrath of Iran's establishment when he said in

    a speech to students that Muslims were not "monkeys" and

    "should not blindly follow" religious leaders.

    'Insulting religious sanctities'

    He was sentenced to death in his first trial, behind closed

    doors, in the western city of Hamedan in November 2002.

    After the

    verdict sparked widespread student protests, supreme leader

    Ayat Allah Ali Khamenei intervened and ordered a retrial.

    "I am very happy. I feel very proud that what I said all along

    has been recognised. He was not an apostate and did not insult the


    Saleh Nikbakht,

    Hashem Aghajari's lawyer

    But after the same court defiantly upheld its verdict in a retrial, a 

    second round of hearings was ordered to take place in a

    more sympathetic court in the capital, Tehran.

    The judiciary also dropped all charges on Monday that could lead to the

    death penalty.

    Aghajari was instead slapped with lesser charges of insulting

    religious sanctities, propagating against the regime and spreading

    false information to disturb the public mind.

    Solitary confinement

    Those charges carried a jail term of between five and 10 years.

    "Regarding insulting religious sanctities, I am sure that if

    this case is taken to the Supreme Court... this sentence will be

    revoked and my client will be cleared of the charges," Nikbakht


    Ayat Allah Ali Khamenei ordered
    a retrial for Hashem Aghajari

    "I am confident he will be cleared on appeal," he asserted, but

    added that if that failed he would apply for a pardon to coincide

    with the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, which falls in

    February 2005.

    "I have reached the conclusion that in dealing with the Iranian

    judiciary, you can only move your case forward with sensitivity and

    moderation," the lawyer said.

    Iran's judiciary is seen as a bastion of the Islamic republic's

    religious right-wing, and has frequently been accused of targeting



    Aghajari is currently being held in remand in Tehran's Evin

    prison, and has complained of spending long periods of time in

    solitary confinement.



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