To the Editors:

While we strongly oppose the threatened US preemptive attack on Iraq, which is certain to amplify the existing anger and resentment of the US in the region and further undermine the fragile reform movement in Iran led by President Khatami, we are also horrified by the recent actions taken by Iran’s clerical rulers against Professor Aghajari, one of Khatami’s closest allies.

Professor Hashem Aghajari has been sentenced to death on bogus charges of apostasy. In yet another blatant attempt to quash legitimate, nonviolent criticism of Iran’s clerical rulers, Professor Aghajari was charged in August after a speech in which he courageously rejected demands to “blindly follow” clerical rule. This speech prompted an outcry from hard-line clerics in the religious establishment, who claimed that it was an attack on the Prophet of Islam and on fundamental Shiite Islamic doctrines.

The trial in which Professor Aghajari was condemned fell far short of international standards of due process. It was conducted behind closed doors, and the defendant was given only limited access to his lawyer. In addition to the death sentence, Professor Aghajari has received the medieval punishment of seventy-four lashes of the whip, eight years’ imprisonment and internal exile, and a ten-year prohibition from teaching.

Aghajari’s family has expressed concern about his health in prison. He lost his right leg in the Iran–Iraq war, and it is known that he had to undergo surgery on his other leg while in prison. The forty-five-year-old Aghajari heads the history department at the Tarbiat Modarress University in Tehran.

We urge the controlling powers in Iran to reverse this sentence immediately and allow Professor Aghajari to return to his family.

Hamid Dabashi
Columbia University
New York City

Arien Mack
New School University
New York City

This letter has been cosigned by Michael Ignatieff, Robert Pinsky, Susan Sontag, and more than fifty others.

This Issue

December 19, 2002