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Khamenei defends eye-for-eye laws

TEHRAN, Sept 1 (AFP) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday vigorously defended the country's eye-for-an-eye laws and attacked moderate journalists who opposed them as "apostates," state radio reported.

"Any newspaper or writer wanting to renounce the fundamental principles of Islam or questioning the vengeance law is an apostate and liable to the death penalty," Khamenei told a gathering of several thousand troops in the northeastern town of Mashhad.

Iran's supreme leader has been lashing out at the moderate newspaper Nehat (Vitality) for several days after it proposed abolishing the death penalty as well as Iran's vengeance laws.

Khamenei's attack appeared also to be a direct assault on Neshat's leader writer Emadeddin Baqi who recently said Iran must scrap hanging and its vengeance laws in order to measure up to the universal declaration of human rights.

"The precepts and the fundamental basics of Islam such as Qesas (vengeance laws) are not to be renounced, and if anyone renounces them then he must be seen as an apostate and death will be his punishment," Khamenei said.

Baqi wrote in an article published on Monday that the "penalty of death by hanging or vengeance laws are not solutions to murders and corruption on earth." Khamenei said such attacks on the foundations of Islam were "unacceptable."

"This type of attack against the most obvious precepts of Islam promote insecurity on the intellectual and cultural level," he said.

The attack was enthusiastically taken up by the association of Koranic teachers from the holy city of Qom, which laid into the moderate press for questioning "the fundamental rules" of the Moslem faith.

In a statement carried on the radio, the association called on political leaders to "put an end to this anti-Islamic campaign" in the pages of the moderate press.

The conseravtive press and hardliners in the government have for three days been calling on the regime to "unravel" what they call a "cultural plot in the newspaper columns" of Neshat and Khordad, the two main press supporters of President Mohammed Khatami.

The conservative daily Kayhan said Tuesday that the opinions expressed by Baqi -- who also writes for Khordad -- were "arrogance and apostasy."

Papers and writers have been strictly forbidden since the 1979 Islamic revolution from questioning the "ideological basis" of Islam and its sharia laws which are largely the basis of civil and criminal law in Iran.

The new legal system introduced in 1996 prescribes the death penalty for spying, taking up arms against state security forces and drug trafficking.

In the case of murder, the family of the victim can demand the vengeance law, which has been in force since the revolution.

A number of prisoners are currently faced with the death penalty, including drug runners and some 20 people charged with spying for Israel.


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