In what observers saw as a major climb down by the Islamic regime's judiciary, Islamic leftist activist Hashem Aghajari's death sentence was commuted to five years in prison. His lawyer said he will appeal the sentence.
July 20, 2004 - A branch of Tehran public court sentenced history professor and Islamic leftist activist Hashem Aghajari to five years in jail, the defendant's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht announced on Tuesday. Aghajari was twice convicted to death by a court in Hamedan for blasphemy insulting the Supreme Leader and Shiite clergy in a speech about Islamic Protestantism, during which he criticized the clerical rule and the Shiite principle of religious emulation. But the death verdicts were turned down by the supreme court, after the Supreme Leader's intervention.
"The Tehran court sentenced him to five years in prison for insulting Islamic values," Nikbakht said.
He said the court had agreed to free Aghajari, a history lecturer and pro-reform activist, on bail of 1 billion Rials ($117,000) while a further appeal is lodged.
Political analysts say Aghajari's original death sentence caused serious embarrassment to Iran's clerical establishment which is eager to see the case closed, according to Reuters.
"I am happy that the judiciary stopped the commotion surrounding this case," Nikbakht said.
Two years of Aghajari's prison sentence were suspended, meaning that, after accounting for the two years he has already spent in jail, the effective jail term was just one more year, he said.
The court also banned Aghajari from holding public office or taking part in any activity requiring state permission, such as teaching, for five years after his prison term is completed.
Nikhbakht said he will appeal the verdict, even though he considered it a partial victory for his client. "As the ruling is not compatible with the comments my client made in court in denying any insult to religion I will appeal in the next 20 days and I'm sure the Supreme Court will revoke the ruling
In his final oral defense to the court earlier this month Aghajari spoke out strongly in favor of democratic reforms and criticized those who put the clergy on a pedestal. "Some think that touching a clergyman's robes will cure people or is a blessing ... (But) clerics are not sacred," he said.
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