Iranian judiciary quashes death sentence on dissident: report

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran's Supreme Court has decided to quash a death sentence on dissident intellectual Hashem Aghajari and will announce the decision shortly, the Iranian student news agency ISNA reported.

 The agency, which has been well informed on the Aghajari case, did not provide a source in its report and added that officials in the hardline-controlled judiciary were so far refusing to confirm the news.

Aghajari, a history professor at Tehran University and a disabled war veteran, was convicted of blasphemy by a judge in Hamedan in November 2002 for calling for a reformation in Iran's state Shiite Muslim religion.

He also said Muslims were not "monkeys" and "should not blindly follow" religious leaders, an assertion that the court saw as a direct challenge to the Shiite concept of emulation and the status of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The verdict sparked protests in Iran and abroad, and Khamenei demanded it be reviewed.

In January 2003, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial but the same judge in Hamedan recently confirmed his previous sentence.

Khamenei has again ordered a review of the case, and was quoted by a justice official as saying Aghajari's remarks "cannot be characterised as apostasy and are not liable to the death penalty".