Death sentence for 'blasphemy' causes outrage in Iran

Twenty Tehran university department chiefs have resigned in outrage over the sentencing to death of their pro-reform colleague for blasphemy, the student news agency ISNA said.

In an open letter to the chairman of Tarbiat-Modarres University, where Hashem Aghajari worked as a history lecturer before his arrest, the academics said they no longer felt safe enough to carry out their duties.

"In the light of ... the unbelievable verdict for our brother Aghajari, we do not feel secure," ISNA quoted the letter as saying.

Aghajari, a lecturer and political activist who lost a leg in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, was condemned to death for blasphemy on November 6.

He had called in a speech for reform of Iran's state Shiite Muslim religion, and said Muslims were not "monkeys" who should blindly follow the teachings of senior clerics - a comment that challenged the Shiite doctrine of emulation and the very foundation of Iran's Islamic regime.

The academics said the death sentence, passed by a hardline judge in the western city of Hamedan, was "an insult to the university community" and they called for "appropriate measures to create a favourable atmosphere for us to carry on our duties".

Meanwhile, ISNA reported that officials at Tarbiat-Modarres University, a centre for teacher training, have delayed exams by a week due to continued student protests.

Students at a number of Tehran university faculties are planning more protests over the death sentence for Sunday and Monday, and activists have vowed to keep up their classroom strike action until the verdict is revoked.

The academic has defiantly refused to appeal, saying he is "ready to die".