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Iran's Parliament Urges Lifting of Reformer's Death Sentence

Iran's reformist-dominated parliament is calling for the lifting of a death sentence handed down against a prominent professor at Tehran University, who suggested Muslims should be free to interpret their faith as they wish.

Nearly two-thirds of Iran's 290-seat parliament signed a letter urging that Hashem Aghajari's death sentence not be carried out.

Parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi called the conviction and sentence of the 45-year-old reform-minded history professor "disgusting." Another reformist legislator said the sentence portrays Islam as a "religion of violence."

Mr. Aghajari is a close ally of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and a prominent member of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization. He was sentenced to death last Wednesday by an Iranian court for saying in a speech that Muslims should not "blindly follow" Islamic religious leaders. He also suggested each new generation should be free to interpret the Islamic faith as it saw fit.

The death sentence was ordered by a single judge in a closed courtroom, who said Mr. Aghajari's speech lowered the esteem of Islamic clergy. But according to Iran's speaker of parliament, it was the judge's verdict that harmed the image of Islam.