- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

From combined dispatches

TEHRAN — Iran’s ruling Guardian Council has passed a law banning the use of torture, effective immediately, a judiciary official announced this week.

The council, which rejected at least three similar proposals in the past, approved the law last Thursday, a day after Iran’s judiciary chief ordered it, said Nasser Hosseini, the judiciary official.

“For courts, it’s obligatory to implement the law after it is approved by the Guardian Council,” he said.

Human rights groups long have complained about the use of torture against detainees, including intellectuals and political activists.

“I hope the law provides enough protection for prisoners who have complained about torture,” said lawmaker Rajab Ali Mazroui, a reformer.

Iran’s bleak human rights record was highlighted by the case of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, 54, who died last July, about three weeks after being detained for taking photographs outside a Tehran prison during demonstrations.

She was posthumously honored last Saturday in Vancouver by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which named Mrs. Kazemi this year’s recipient of its President’s Award for exemplary contributions to the craft of journalism. Her son, Stephan Hachemi, accepted the award on her behalf. At its convention, the CAJ renewed its demand that Toronto push Tehran for justice in the death of Mrs. Kazemi and to respect her family’s wishes by returning her remains to Canada.

In a separate challenge to Iran’s hard-line religious courts, the attorney for an academic sentenced to death for blasphemy said yesterday that he might persuade his client to again appeal the verdict, which has provoked protests at home and condemnation abroad.

Hashem Aghajari has refused to appeal the sentence, reissued by a provincial court last week, effectively challenging the hard-line judiciary to hang him for saying Muslims should not blindly follow senior clerics “like monkeys.”

His wife, Zahra Behnoudi, told reporters Monday that Mr. Aghajari remains defiant.

“Free me unconditionally, or carry out the sentence. I will not appeal in order for you to lose my case again in an administrative labyrinth,” she quoted him as saying. “I refuse to sign the notification of the verdict, and I refuse to appeal.”

She said her husband had told her that the verdict, a confirmation of one handed down by the same judge in the western city of Hamadan, was dated last August, although it was made public only last week.

This second sentence ignored objections raised by the Supreme Court to the original decision, newspapers quoted Mr. Aghajari’s attorney, Saleh Nikbakht, as saying.

The Hamadan judge failed to “clear any points that were signaled as shortcomings by the Supreme Court,” he said.

“The judge has issued the ruling without clearing up those deficiencies … and this amounts to a ruling against the Supreme Court,” Mr. Nikbakht contended.

Iran’s top judicial authorities are thought to be anxious to avoid a repetition of the protests at home and abroad that occurred after the original death sentence was handed down against Mr. Aghajari, a disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war.

The Hamadan court found Mr. Aghajari had committed blasphemy in a speech in that city, and so, in line with Islamic and Iranian law, he deserved to die.

The speech struck at the core of Iran’s 25-year-old Islamic regime, calling for a reformation in the state religion and asserting that Muslims “should not blindly follow” religious leaders.

Powerful hard-liners saw this as an assault on the Shi’ite doctrine of “emulation” and of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s status as supreme leader.

After demonstrations by students and protests by reformists in the government over the death sentence, the Ayatollah Khamenei demanded that it be reviewed. In January 2003, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial.

Mr. Aghajari also was sentenced to eight years in jail. That term later was commuted to four years before being scrapped on April 14, but he is still being held in Tehran’s Evin prison.

Judicial officials said last week the new Hamadan verdict is not final and would be reviewed again by the Supreme Court.

The judiciary recently issued directives banning torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and guaranteeing the rights of citizens, in what was seen as an admission that abuses exist.

The directives were given the force of law by the outgoing pro-reform parliament, strengthening existing legislation, in a move that was endorsed on Monday after a review by the hard-line Guardian Council.

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