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Iranian Accused of Blasphemy Is Free on Bail

August 01, 2004|From Reuters

TEHRAN — Iran's leading academic dissident, Hashem Aghajari, was freed on bail Saturday after spending two years in prison for telling Iranians not to follow their religious leaders like "monkeys."

Students took to the streets in violent protests in 2002 after the history lecturer, who lost a leg in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, was sentenced to hang for blasphemy.

"I hope there will come a day when no one goes to prison in Iran for his opinions, let alone be sentenced to death," Aghajari, 47, weeping, told reporters outside his home in north Tehran.

His joyous family handed out sweets and orange juice to journalists. His lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said one of the reformist's friends had put up the bail of $113,000. He added that more than 160 well-wishers, including academics and clerics, had offered to help pay the sum.

The blasphemy charge was overturned by the Supreme Court in June after many senior clerics said it was too harsh.

In a retrial in July, Aghajari was sentenced to five years on a lesser charge. Two years were suspended, leaving him one year to serve after taking into account his two years spent behind bars.

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