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Goff Must Denounce Death Sentence While in Iran

Goff Must Use Iran Visit to Denounce Aghajari Death Sentence

ACT New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Defence Spokesman Ken Shirley today called on Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff to use his visit to Iran to denounce the death sentence passed on Iranian university professor Dr Seyyed Hashem Aghajari.

"Professor Aghajari was sentenced to death last month in the west Iranian city of Hamadan for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad. Professor Aghajari had criticised hard-line clerical leaders who demand blind obedience. His accusers have resorted to the death sentence to gag him.

In a closed trial on November 6, Professor Aghajari was sentenced to 74 lashes, a ban from teaching, imprisonment - to be served in "internal exile" in the desert cities of Tabas, Zabol and Gonabad - and death.

"According to his family, Professor Aghajari is in urgent need of medical attention. His amputated right leg is bruised and infected, and he is unable to stand.

"Canada's Foreign Minister spoke out against this barbaric sentence within days of it being announced. Ayatollah Ali Khameni has ordered Iran's chief judge to review the sentence. Countries must keep up pressure - New Zealand must urge the Iranian authorities to overturn the whole sentence handed down to Professor Aghajari, permit his unconditional release, and protect his right to freedom of expression.

"Both Prime Minister Helen Clark and Phil Goff were quick off the mark to condemn the sentence of stoning to death of the young Nigerian woman Amina Lawal - they called on Miss World New Zealand to boycott the international pageant in Nigeria.

"Phil Goff will be meeting with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Parliamentary Speaker Mehdi Karrubi - who has himself already condemned the death sentence.

"To maintain consistency Phil Goff must speak out against the codes of the Islamic Sharia while he is in Iran and make it quite clear that these barbaric sentences are not acceptable in a civilised world where governments should be secular and tolerant of dissenting views and expression," Mr Shirley said.

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