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Iranian Officials to Review Reformer's Last-Minute Death Sentence Appeal

The lawyer for an Iranian pro-reform college professor has filed a last-minute appeal of his client's death sentence. The sentence sparked two weeks of protests by pro-reform students in Iran.

The attorney for pro-reform history professor Hashem Aghajari announced he filed the necessary papers to appeal the verdict. Iranian court officials said the appeal will be reviewed.

Mr. Aghajari, who is a close political ally of moderate President Mohammed Khatami, was sentenced to death November 6 for suggesting, during a speech, that Muslims should be free to interpret their faith as they wish, and should not blindly follow Islamic clerics.

The verdict, handed down by a single judge in a closed courtroom, sparked two weeks of student demonstrations and some violent counter demonstrations by hard-line militias.

In an effort to defuse a potential political crisis, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Judiciary in November to review the verdict. But the judiciary responded by saying the court would review the matter only if an appeal were filed.

Mr. Aghajari insisted he would not file an appeal and, in a letter, challenged the judiciary to carry out the death sentence.

But Monday, the college professor's attorney said he filed the appeal, even though his client was opposed.

The case comes at a time of increased tension between pro-reformists demanding greater social and political freedom and hardline religious conservatives who control most of Iran's key institutions, including the courts and police.