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Iranian Reformist Will Not Appeal Death Sentence - 2002-11-13

An Iranian reformist and close ally of President Mohammad Khatami says he will not appeal his death sentence even though the president says the sentence should never have been issued.

The lawyer for Hashem Aghajari says his client has informed him he has no intention of attempting to appeal the death sentence he was given for challenging the authority of Islamic clerics.

During a speech in August, Mr. Aghajari suggested Muslims should be free to interpret their religion as they wish and should not blindly follow Islamic clerics who interpret the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

On Wednesday, President Khatami said the verdict against Mr. Aghajari was incorrect and never should have been issued. The president suggested, given the current political strife in Iran, no measures that promote tension should be taken by the judiciary.

At the core of the issue is a battle between reformers calling for an easing of social and political restrictions and conservative hard-liners who are attempting to maintain control of Iran's judiciary. Mr. Aghajari's lawyer suggested the verdict was politically motivated. A statement issued by the judiciary's public relations office asked how can one defend someone who claims to be a Muslim but casts doubt on the principles of the religion?

Mr. Aghajari's lawyer said his client sent him a letter in which he reminded the judiciary that he had lost one of his legs fighting as a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and said if the judiciary thinks the verdict is fair it should apply it. Otherwise, he wrote, they should do what is necessary and cancel the verdict.

Last Wednesday a judge in a closed courtroom sentenced the college professor to death, prompting student demonstrations that began Saturday and continued to grow in numbers Wednesday at Tehran University. Riot police were out in force in central Tehran to prevent students from demonstrating in the streets.

On Tuesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei threatened the use of force to quell the growing demonstrations.