While the public conflicts in Iran are usually along the lines of reformists versus conservatives, a rare case of disagreement among conservatives has emerged in the local press. The issue is once again the death sentence handed down to liberal academic Hashem Aghajari for his criticisms of the clerical heirarchy, which provoked widespread outrage and student demonstrations. In an apparent attempt to defuse the situation, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the judiciary to review the sentence, but some were unwilling to obey, among them prosecutor-general Ayatollah Abdulnabi Namazi. The split among conservatives became more open when a column in the generally hardline local Jomhuri Islami newspaper on 1 December criticised this show of dissent. 'If everyone in this ship did whatever he wanted, and listened to the helmsman only when he agreed with his, then nothing would remain', the columnist wrote.
The pressure on the judiciary to adopt a more conciliatory approach may be responsible for the unexplained postponement of two other trials which threatened to become cause celebres, that of four student organisers of the recent protests, and of a reformist accused of manipulating opinion polls.