Appeal filed in death sentence of Iranian professor

TEHRAN, Iran -- A university professor sentenced to death for insulting Islam remained defiant, but his attorney appealed the verdict on Monday -- the last possible day to challenge a case that has provoked weeks of protests by students and the intervention of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Attorney Saleh Nikbakht said he appealed against the wishes of Hashem Aghajari, who wanted to challenge the judiciary to carry out the sentence. The 20-day appeal period ended Monday.

Aghajari, imprisoned in the western city of Hamedan, "believes the verdict is an insult to justice and should not be appealed," Nikbakht said at a news conference in Tehran, adding that he intervened, using his power of attorney, so as not to "to give any pretext to the judiciary."

Nikbakht's move Monday enables the judiciary to review the sentence without losing face.

Aghajari, a professor of history at Tehran's Tarbiat-e-Modarres, or Teachers Training University, was convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad and questioning the clergy's interpretation of Islam.

In a speech in Hamedan in June, he questioned why only clerics had the right to interpret Islam, saying each new generation should be able to interpret the faith on its own.

In addition to the death sentence, Aghajari was sentenced to 74 lashes, banned from teaching for 10 years and exiled for eight years to three remote Iranian cities.

The other punishments could still be carried out even if the death sentence is revoked.