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Hard-Line Iranian Protesters Call for Professor's Execution - 2002-11-15

About 1,000 people demonstrated in Tehran Friday, calling for the execution of a professor convicted of blasphemy. The march after Friday prayers followed several days of student demonstrations calling on the government to spare the professor's life.

The group of hard-line demonstrators marched outside Tehran University, chanting for the death of Professor Hasham Aghajari. The crowd also voiced support for Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

This was the largest show of opposition to reformers since the mostly peaceful student protests in support of Mr. Aghajari began early this week.

He is a history professor and prominent member of the reformist Iranian political party, the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization. Professor Aghajari was sentenced to death by a judge in Western Iran last week for a speech that questioned the clergy's right to rule Iran. He also said other people should also have the right to interpret Islam.

The Associated Press reports that Mr. Aghajari called on students not to break the law while voicing opposition to his death sentence. In a meeting with family members at the prison where he is being held, Mr. Aghajari reportedly said any protests on his behalf should be within the framework of the law. He also reportedly warned that some people may be trying to promote political tension by inciting the students to action.

Iran's legal system is under the control of hard-liners, and the death sentence has triggered a backlash from the reform-minded parliament. Two-thirds of its members signed a letter calling for the verdict's dismissal. The country's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, said the verdict should never have been issued.

Iran's supreme leader said he would use force to intervene, if reformers and conservatives cannot settle their differences. Mr. Aghajari's sentence will be considered final on December 2, unless he appeals, which he previously refused to do.