Students support professor who 'insulted' Islam
The Advertiser, 16 November 2002
Tehran: About 500 students at Amir Kabir University in Tehran defied threats of a crackdown and protested for a fifth day against the death sentence of reformist history professor Hadhem Aghajari.
Professor Aghajari thumbed his nose at Iran's judiciary on Wednesday by refusing to appeal against his sentence, which has become a rallying point for reformists who oppose strict rule by Islamic clerics.
"If the head of the judiciary thinks that this verdict is fair, he should apply it. Otherwise they should do the necessary" and cancel the sentence, lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said, quoting Professor Aghajari.
The professor was sentenced to death last week for insulting Islam and its leaders in a speech where he had called for an end to blind obedience to Iran's religious rulers. He said each new generation should be able to interpret the Islamic faith on its own.
He also criticised the clerical establishment for considering the existing interpretations as sacred.
Iranian President, Mohammed Khatami, himself a reform leader with whom Professor Aghajari is allied, yesterday called the verdict "improper".
Iranians have been pressing for more social freedoms and elected Mr Khatami for his pledges to bring about such reforms. But hard-line religious leaders who have the final say on law and control the judiciary, the military and the news media, have refused to relax their control.