11/24/2006, 00.00
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Iran cleric calls for the murder of Azeri journalist

by Dariush Mirzai
The journalist is accused of insulting Muhammad. With a Muslim name and presumably a Muslim himself the journalist is considered an apostate.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – The fatwa pronounced against Salman Rushdie is not the only example of how Iran's Shia clergy claims the right to exert extra-territorial jurisdiction. A few days ago an Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Morteza Bani Fazl, said that Rafik Taghi, a journalist in Azerbaijan, should be killed and as an encouragement he has offered a house he has inherited from his father as a reward. Mr Taghi is accused of insulting Muhammad in an article published by Azeri paper Sanat, under the influence of "Western powers".

The ayatollah has also demanded that Azerbaijian apologises to the world's Muslims and take repressive measures against the paper and the writer.

Azerbaijian might not react to such calls, but they are bound to have unpredictable consequences in Iranian Azerbaijan, already shaken by popular unrest in May 2006 after the publication of an anti-Azeri racist cartoon in a Farsi-language newspaper.

It is quite interesting to see how Bani-Fazl motivated his death sentence. One of the two reasons invoked was "peace and interfaith dialogue". Since "Islam is the religion of friendship and brotherhood", the guilty article can only perturb the quietness and peace amongst neighbouring countries and in the world and cause discord between Christians and Muslims.

The second reason is based on traditional Islamic jurisprudence as interpreted by Islamist circles. Since the journalist's name, Rafik Taghi, is very likely Muslim, i.e. passed on by Muslim parents, the Azeri journalist must be considered guilty of apostasy, hence guilty of a capital crime and death is the normal sentence.

So far Iranian authorities have remained silent, neither approving nor disapproving the action taken by the ayatollah. However, the fatwa does show how easily Iran's ruling circles can be stirred by any criticism of Islam and Muhammad anywhere around the world.

It also fits very well with the Islamist regime's policy of intimidation against journalists at home and abroad.

Is Iran sending a message to its northern neighbour? Probably not. Needlessly irritating Iran's own national minorities runs the risk of destabilising the Iranian government itself.

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