Iranian reformist scholar to stand trial for denouncing clerics

TEHRAN, Iran - A leading reformist will face trial for denouncing Iranian hard-line clerics in a speech last month, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Hashem Aghajari, a university teacher and reformist scholar, has been charged with "insulting Islamic sanctities," the agency quoted judiciary official Zekrollah Ahmadi as saying.

Aghajari will stand trial in Hamedan, a provincial capital in western Iran, where he made a speech last month, the agency said. It was unclear when the trial will begin. The agency gave no further details.

Aghajari, a member of the reformist Organization of Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen, was unavailable for comment.

According to media reports, Aghajari denounced reactionary conservative clerics during a public speech and urged Iranians not to "blindly follow" religious leaders. He also sought "religious renewal."

After losing control of parliament in February 2000 legislative elections, hard-line followers of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have tried to protect their eroding power by thwarting President Mohammad Khatami's growing reform movement.

Hard-liners, through their control over unelected institutions such as the judiciary and police, have closed down pro-democracy publications and jailed or harassed scores of prominent reformist journalists and activists.

Iranian political freedoms and the rule of law have been controlled by conservative Muslim clerics since the 1979 Islamic revolution.