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Ally of Iranian President Sentenced to Death - 2002-11-07


In Iran, an ally of President Mohammad Khatami has been sentenced to death for questioning the right of the Islamic clergy to rule the republic.

Iranian scholar and history lecturer Hashem Aghajari was sentenced to 74 lashes, eight years in jail and then death, after suggesting in a speech that Iran's clerical leaders should not expect people to follow them blindly.

Mr. Aghajari's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told reporters the verdict was handed down Wednesday in the western city of Hamedan.

In addition to being a close ally of President Khatami, Mr. Aghajari is a prominent member of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization, a reformist political party.

He was arrested in August for making a speech in which he called for a "religious renewal" of Shi'ite Muslims, saying the people "should not blindly follow" religious leaders.

The ruling comes at a time when the pro-reform President Khatami is locked in a struggle with hardline clerics who control key institutions in Iran.

Dozens of intellectuals and journalists have been jailed in recent years.

Mr. Aghajari's trial and sentence were carried out in a court without a jury. He is expected to appeal.