Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has joined the fracas over the death sentence meted out to liberal academic Hashem Aghajari, ordering that the sentence be reviewed. While Khamenei usually sides with the conservative clerics in their ongoing struggle with reformists, he appears to have stepped in here to dampen down mounting social unrest. Students have been holding large rallies to protest at Aghajari's punishment, imposed for criticising Islamic militancy and authoritarian clerical rule.
The Supreme Leader's intervention in this particular battle contrasts with his contribution to the another current bone of contention between hardliners and reformists. He last week threatened to invoke 'the force of the people' - taken as a reference to the Revolutionary Guards and their ancillary volunteer force - if the President failed to resolve the conflict over two draft bills designed to reduce the influence of hardliners in the selection of parliamentary candidates and in the judicial system.