First Published: 2003-05-17

Iranian dissident refuses defense in retrial

Aghajari refuses to defend himself unless there is open court with presence of media, experts, professors.


Middle East Online

He sticks to his decision

TEHRAN - Iranian dissident Hashem Aghajari refused Saturday to defend himself on the first day of a retrial for blasphemy in Hamedan, western Iran, his lawyer said here.

"As long as the court is not an open court with the presence of journalists, experts and university professors I refuse to participate in any court session and defend myself," Aghajari was quoted by his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht as saying.

Aghajari, a disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and supporter of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, sparked the anger of Iran's religious establishment by delivering a speech in July 2002 questioning clerics' right to rule in Iran.

On November 6 he was sentenced to hang by a Hamedan court but the verdict ignited widespread student protests that forced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step in and ease the row.

The death sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court in February, and Aghajari returned to prison to await retrial after two weeks' home leave on bail of 1.3 billion rials (162,000 US dollars).


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