Iran Scholar Warned Death Verdict Final

Iran's chief prosecutor warned Tuesday that a history professor's death sentence for questioning hard-line rule will be final if he continues refusing to appeal, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Hashem Aghajari, a professor at a university in Tehran, has refused to appeal — challenging the judiciary to carry out a sentence that has provoked the largest student demonstrations in three years.

"Aghajari is obliged to appeal. If he does not appeal within the 20-day period, the verdict will be final," IRNA quoted hard-line cleric Abdol-Nabi Namazi as saying.

The professor has until Dec. 2 to file an appeal, but his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Aghajari refuses to do so.

Nikbakht argued, however, that the verdict could be reconsidered even if his client does not file an appeal.

"The supreme leader, judiciary chief, chief prosecutor, head of supreme court and the judge investigating the case have the legal right to reconsider the verdict if they consider the sentence is wrong," Nikbakht said. "Comments by the chief prosecutor contradict the law."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, ordered the judiciary on Nov. 16 to reconsider the verdict.

Aghajari's case underscores the power struggle between reformists supporting President Mohammad Khatami's program of social and political freedoms and hard-liners who control the police and judiciary.

A Tehran court, meanwhile, ordered the arrest of four prominent reformist students who led protests over the sentence, IRNA reported Tuesday.

Abdollah Momeni and Akbar Atri were beaten by plainclothes security agents, said student leader Arash Pahlavan-Nasir.

Two others, Saeed Razavi and Amir Hussein Balali, were detained later. It wasn't known where the four were being held.

"Hard-liners, including the judiciary, think they can intimidate and silence students by their illegal violent practices. They are wrong. It only deepens public hatred of them," Pahlavan-Nasir said.

Tehran Deputy Governor Ebrahim Rezaei Babadi criticized the arrests as "contrary to the country's interests" but called on students to remain calm, IRNA reported Tuesday.