AQAJARI DEATH SENTENCE MIGHT BE CONFIRMED

Tehran, 18 Feb. (IPS) Outspoken university professor, Hashem Aqajari's death sentence might be confirmed, a source at the Islamic Republicís Judiciary speculated Tuesday.

On Monday, the newly appointed Judiciary spokesman, Hojjatoleslam Qolamhoseyn Elham said that the death penalty had only been halted, and not entirely lifted, because of "defects" found in the course of investigations into the case.

A bench of the Supreme Court, based in the religious city of Qom, on Friday revoked the death sentence, issued by a court in the western city of Hamedan on November 6 last year, accusing the Islamist reformer of insulting the Muslimís prophet Mohammad when, during a conference in this city, said faithful are not "apes" to follow the clerics "blinded" and called for a thorough reform in Islam.

The court also condemned him to eight-year banishment in desert cities as well as 74 lashes and ban from teaching for 10 years, but did not explain if the accused had to face these punishments before of after the execution.

"It is possible that the new ruling confirm the initial verdict or a different verdict is issued", Elham said, adding the defendant could then appeal.

But Aqajari's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, brushed aside those claims. "My client has been accused of apostasy and denying the basics of the (Islamic) religion. This is while apostasy is relevant if one denies God and the prophets ... and my client has not made any statement to this effect", he said, as quoted by the official news agency IRNA.

The sentence was followed by national and international outrage, with students staging a month-long protest movement to have the Judiciary revoke the verdict and present apology to the scholar.

Under increasing pressures from the public, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the regime ordered the Judiciary to review the case, but he was not heard.

An influent member of the Mojahedeen of the Islamic Revolution Organisation, an important component of the reformist coalition that back President Mohammad Khatami, Aqajari is a war veteran, who lost his leg as well as his brother during the Iraqi imposed-war of 1980-1988.

Last Saturday, one of his supporters, Hoseyn Mojahed, who is the head of the mainstream Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) in the Hamedan province, was sent to six months in jail on charge of inciting public opinion.

Mojahed was summoned to court and indicted 10 months ago. A court in Hamedan had initially sentenced him to 30 months in jail and 74 lashes on charges of defamation and libel as well as inciting public opinion.

However, the city's appeals court commuted the sentence to six-month imprisonment after it rejected the libel charge. ENDS AQAJARI 18203