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11/10/02 - IRANIAN DEATH SENTENCE - 2002-11-12

In Iran, Hashem Aghajari has been sentenced to death after questioning the right of Muslim clergymen to rule his country. Mr. Aghajari is a prominent member of an Iranian reformist political party, the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization. In a closed trial without a jury, he was convicted on charges of “insulting” Islam. He was sentenced to seventy-four lashes, eight years in internal exile, and then execution. He is expected to appeal.

Mr. Aghajari is a history professor at Tehran’s Modarres University. On June 19th, he gave a speech in the western Iranian city of Hamedan in which he called for a “religious renaissance” among Shi’ite Muslims. He said that people “should not blindly follow” religious leaders. He also compared the powers wielded by Iran’s clerical rulers with those of medieval Roman Catholic popes.

In countries where human rights are respected, such comments would be a perfectly normal exercise of freedom of speech. But in Iran, basic rights are not respected.

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran’s government has been dominated by clergymen who subscribe to an extremist form of Shi’ite Islam. Iran’s clerical regime has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations for its poor human rights record. Iran’s many human rights abuses include arbitrary arrests, summary executions, disappearances, widespread use of torture, and unjust punishments such as stoning and flogging. The Iranian theocracy restricts freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association.

In controlled presidential and parliamentary elections, the vast majority of the Iranian people have voted for political and economic reform. But they are not being listened to by the unelected clerical rulers of Iran. Uncompromising, destructive policies continue, and too little has changed in the daily lives of the Iranian people.

History, as President George W. Bush has said, has made clear “the power of one simple idea: when given a choice, people will choose freedom. . . . [T]he people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world. Their government should listen to their hopes."