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Rafsanjani vows no change in vengeance laws

TEHRAN, Sep 3 (AFP) - Iran's influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Friday repeated warnings to the moderate press after a paper proposed abolishing the death penalty and the Islamic law of vengeance.

"We will defend all the values and pillars of Islam with determination and force," Rafsanjani said, two days after Iran's supreme leader denounced any call to end Islamic punishments as the work of "apostates."

"The popular religious forces and volunteer militia will not tolerate attacks against their religious convictions," said Rafsanjani, who remains a powerful force in Iran's policial life.

"Any attempt to weaken the foundations of Islam is a coup against the country and the religion," he said during his sermon at Friday's weekly prayers at Tehran university.

Any modification of Iran's strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, was "unacceptable," he said.

The moderate Neshat paper set off a firestorm of controversy Monday after saying that the "penalty of death by hanging or vengeance laws are not solutions to murders and corruption on earth."

But on Wednesday supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said "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."

New judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said Thursday that the nation's courts would "combat those who offend the Islamic revolution's foundations via articles and newspapers."

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

The conservative judiciary has waged a massive crackdown on moderate newspapers since reformist President Mohammad Khatami came to power in 1997, closing at least three important pro-Khatami papers this year and arresting or interrogating dozens of journalists.

The closure of the pro-Khatami daily Salam in July set off student protests that erupted into six days of bloody riots after demonstrators were attacked by security forces and Islamic militants.

It was the worst unrest here since thet aftermath of the revolution, leaving three people dead and three others injured, according to official figures.

But the moderate press and student groups said that at least five people were killed and dozens of people wounded, many of whom they said were later abducted from Tehran hospitals by the secret police.


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