TEHRAN, Iran – A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic republic, on Saturday joined about 1,000 students protesting the death sentence of a university professor on charges of insulting Islam, state-run media reported.
Student protests have taken place almost daily in Tehran since the hard-line judiciary sentenced Hashem Aghajari last week. The ruling clerics were enraged by his speech in June in which he said that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own, without clerical guidance.
Aghajari's case has heightened tensions in the power struggle between reformists, many of them students, who seek more social and political freedoms and Islamic hard-liners, who control the police and judiciary and the strongest levers of power in Iran.
On Friday, about 1,000 supporters of the country's hard-line clerics took to the streets calling for Aghajari's execution.
"We will continue our protests until Aghajari is released," an unidentified student leader was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Saturday. The protest took place on the grounds of Amir Kabir University.
Khomeini's grandson, Hojjatoleslam Hassan Khomeini, a midlevel cleric who usually keeps a low profile and is in charge of his grandfather's shrine outside Tehran, joined students in their demand that the sentence be reversed, IRNA reported.
On Friday, Hassan Khomeini visited Aghajari's family to express his regret over the sentence, the Farsi-language daily Iran reported Saturday. It said Khomeini expressed hope that the judiciary will soon "solve the problem and make the right decision."
Hassan Khomeini rarely makes public statements, and his position is not considered to be influential.
Aghajari, during a meeting Friday with his family in a prison in the western city of Hamedan, called for restraint from his supporters, his daughter, Sara Aghajari, said.
Aghajari said he won't appeal the death sentence.
Iran's pro-reform president, Mohammad Khatami, has also criticized the verdict, while the hard-line judiciary said it would defend the conviction, adding that the scholar had "given himself up to Satan by denying the basics of religion."
The sentence will be considered final on Dec. 2 unless Aghajari appeals or the judge or prosecutor general reverses it.