A prominent history professor twice condemned to death on blasphemy charges has been sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islamic sacred beliefs, the judge in charge of the case said Tuesday.
Hashem Aghajari, a professor at Tehran's Teachers Training University, saw his death sentence overturned twice before the charges were reduced this month in a third trial.
Judge Mohammad Eslami said he issued his verdict Saturday and informed Aghajari's attorney Tuesday. He said the sentence also deprives Aghajari of his social rights for five years, meaning he cannot take official posts or compete in elections.
Eslami said he acquitted Aghajari of charges of "propagating against the ruling Islamic establishment" and "spreading lies for the purpose of inciting public opinion."
The charges stemmed from a June 2002 speech in which Aghajari said clerics' teachings on Islam were considered sacred simply because they were part of history.
He was initially convicted on charges of blasphemy, insulting Islam and questioning Iran's clerical rule, but both death sentences were overturned by the Supreme Court after a public outcry.
The new verdict was widely seen as a compromise that saved Aghajari's life and at the same time avoided discrediting the Iranian judiciary.
Aghajari's attorney, Saleh Nikbakht, said the full sentence was five years, with two years suspended. Aghajari, who has spent more than two years in jail, is required to serve just one year of the new sentence.
Nikbakht said he would appeal. "Aghajari is innocent and has to be acquitted. I will definitely appeal the sentence within the legal 20 days," he said.
Aghajari used this month's trial as a platform to defend democratic reforms and denounce hard-line clerics who he said suppress freedoms in the name of Islam, comments that had already cost him more than two years in jail. He firmly rejected charges that he insulted Islamic sacred tenets.
Aghajari said during his trial that he defends "an Islam that brings about freedom and is compatible with democracy and human rights. I've opposed interpretations that justify suppression and dictatorship in the name of Islam."