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US Urges Tehran to 'Start Listening' to Iranian Student Protesters - 2002-11-20


The United States, Tuesday, renewed its concern over the death sentence against reformist Iranian university professor Hashem Aghajari. It urged authorities in Tehran to "start listening" to the Iranian students and others who have been protesting against the sentence.

The Bush administration some days ago described the sentence against Mr. Aghajari as "extraordinarily harsh," and it is now calling on Iranian authorities to pay heed to the students who have been rallying on university campuses in Tehran and other cities against the verdict, handed down earlier this month.

Mr. Aghajari, an ally of Iran's politically moderate President Mohammad Khatami, was sentenced to death for a speech last summer in which he called for a religious renewal within Shiite Islam and said Muslims should not follow religious leaders "blindly."

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei late last week ordered an appeals court to review the sentence, which also includes flogging and imprisonment, but the outcome of the case remains unclear.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker reiterated U.S. concern about the fate of Mr. Aghajari, who he described as "someone who dared to speak his mind and has been condemned to death for it."

"We think it's outrageous that the expression of views would be met with a death sentence, and apparently thousands of students in Iran feel the same way. So we think the government should start listening to its people, and the people we think are sending a message that they're looking for a change in the way they're being governed, and an opportunity for a different or a better life," he said.

In another development, Mr. Reeker confirmed that Iran's ambassador to the United Nations Javad Zarif had canceled a planned visit to Washington this week after U.S. officials told him his schedule would be restricted.

The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1979, and Iranian diplomats at the U.N. can only travel beyond the New York area with special permission.

Officials here said Mr. Zarif had been given permission to attend an event Monday at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. But his request to extend his stay for an appearance at the Middle East Institute, a private policy group, was denied and the Iranian envoy decided to scrap his Washington plans altogether.

A senior U.S. official declined to make any connection between the treatment of Mr. Zarif with the Aghajari case in Iran, saying only that there has been "no change" in the chilly relationship between the U-S and Iranian governments.

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