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Protesters Urge Australia Not to Deport Iranian Cleric

Hundreds of protesters have rallied in Canberra to urge the government not to deport a Muslim cleric from Iran who is considered by the intelligence agencies to be a security risk. Supporters of Sheik Mansour Leghaei say he is a moderate preacher who has been denied justice.

Australia says Sheik Mansour Leghaei is a threat to security, who will soon be sent back to Iran. The government is not legally required to disclose specific details of its allegations against the cleric, a non-citizen who arrived on a temporary visa in 1994.

There has been speculation in the media that the sheik has been spying for Tehran or receiving money from Iranian officials, suggestions he has vehemently denied.

Intelligence agents also investigated allegedly inflammatory Jihadist material that the sheik brought back from Iran in the mid-1990s. The cleric insisted many of the passages had been wrongly interpreted by Australian officials.

He has been involved in a fight to stay in Australia ever since. His efforts have been supported by a broad coalition of religious groups, including Christians, Jews and Buddhists. They consider Leghaei to be a moderate man of integrity and a champion of interfaith dialogue.

About a 1,000 people have rallied in the national capital, Canberra, urging the government not to deport the Iranian-born preacher. They have delivered a letter asking the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to intervene in the case.

Associate professor Ben Saul from the University of Sydney says the cleric's basic rights have been ignored.

"I mean, this is a shadow of a justice system, where a person can be thrown out of a country, their life disrupted - a standard which is discriminatory, in my view, because Australian citizens and permanent residents get a much higher standard of a fair hearing. There are all kinds of human rights problems with this case," said Saul.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among international human rights leaders who have condemned Australia's treatment of the sheik.

Still, the Australian government is unmoved. The immigration minister recently rejected a last-ditch appeal to overturn the deportation order. A spokeswoman says the cleric is expected to be expelled by the end of the month.