US blasts death sentence to Iranian reformer
WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday blasted the death sentence handed down by an Iranian court to a prominent reformist academic for insulting Islam and said it was “gravely concerned” by the deterioration in the human rights situation in the Islamic republic.
“The trial and the extraordinarily harsh sentence against Iranian reformist Hashem Aghajari merely for exercising his right of free expression represents a breach on international standards of due process,” the State Department said.
“We are gravely concerned about this case which indicates a deteriorating human rights situation in Iran,” said Lynn Cassell, a department spokeswoman.She said public executions, stonings, punitive amputations and the persecution of reformers and the press had increased significantly over the past months and noted growing discontent within Iran.
“The United States stands with the people of Iran in their quest for greater freedom, prosperity, judicial due process and the rule of law,” Cassell said.
Aghajari, an ally of moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, was arrested August 8 after calling for a “religious renewal” of Shiite Islam and saying Muslims “should not blindly follow” religious leaders.
He was condemned to death by a court in the western Iranian city of Hamedan on Wednesday.
Reformist officials said the 45-year-old writer, who lost a leg during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and teaches history at Tehran University, was also sentenced to eight years in jail, 74 lashes and a 10-year ban on teaching.
The Islamic republic’s embattled reformists have condemned the sentence as political pressure.
It coincides with their dramatic bid to stem the power of the hardline-controlled judiciary by giving Khatami the right to suspend court rulings he deems to be unconstitutional.
Aghajari is a member of the broadly-secular leftist Organization of Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution (OMIR), a leading party and pioneer of reforms in Iran’s government.
Earlier Friday, Iran’s largest student movement called on supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to prevent Aghajari’s execution.
The Federation of Islamic Associations of University Students of Iran said it “rejects and condemns the verdict against Hashem Aghajari and asks the country’s highest authorities, especially the supreme leader, to prevent the sentence from being carried out.” —AFP