Iranian dissident freed on bail

Dissident Iranian academic Hashem Aghajari has been freed on bail after spending two years in jail for questioning the country's Shia leaders.

    Hashem Aghajari had criticised the country's clergy

    Family members and friends celebrated outside Aghajari's Tehran home on Saturday as the disabled leftist academic returned from north Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

    "I hope that freedom, justice and human rights will be realised. I hope that all prisoners of conscience who have committed no crime will be released soon," the history professor said, defying an order to stay silent.

    "I am so happy to be among people again. I am happy that the truth has prevailed. I pray for the victory of the Iranian nation," he said.

    Iran's hardline judiciary allowed Aghajari out on a hefty bail of $112,000 pending his appeal of a five-year sentence.

    Courting trouble

    Aghajari, who lost a leg fighting in the Iran-Iraq (1980-1988) war, drew the wrath of the country's clergy when he said in a speech Muslims were not "monkeys" and "should not blindly follow" religious leaders.

    "I hope that freedom, justice and human rights will be realized. I hope that all prisoners of conscience who have committed no crime will be released soon"

    Hashem Aghajari,
    Iranian dissident

    The speech was seen as blasphemy and a hardline judge in the western city of Hamedan, where Aghajari delivered his call for reforms sentenced him to hang.

    But the verdict sparked widespread student protests and a re-trial was ordered. But the same Hamedan court again defiantly sentenced him to death.

    Charges that solicitied the death penalty were dropped in a second re-trial and Aghajari was instead convicted of ''insulting religious sanctities, propagating against the regime and spreading false information to disturb the public mind''.

    He was handed a five-year jail term, two years of which were suspended, as well as five years of ''deprivation of social rights'' to commence when he would be released from jail.

    Aghajari's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said scores of friends and supporters of the academic – whose health is ailing after his spell on death row and solitary confinement – had offered to post bail.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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