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Monday, September 28, 1998 Published at 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK

World: Middle East

'Fatwa stays' Iranian clerics warn Rushdie

Iranian clerics say the fatwa can only be revoked by Ayatollah Khomeini

Three senior Iranian clerics have said the fatwa, or religious edict, calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie's death is irrevocable and must be implemented.

The statement comes just days after Britain and Iran agreed to restore their diplomatic relations to ambassadorial level after the Iranian Foreign Minister said his government would not pursue the fatwa.

Correspondents say hard-liners opposed to the moderate government of President Mohammad Khatami appear to be mounting a backlash against the deal intended to remove the last obstacle to normal diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran.

"I heard that England is under the illusion that the fatwa against the apostate Rushdie will be revoked," Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel Lankarani said in a statement.

Fatwa 'obligatory'

"This fatwa is irrevocable and cannot be changed at any time. It is obligatory to carry out the fatwa."

Nouri Hamedani, another Grand Ayatollah, said the fatwa must be enforced and no high-ranking Muslim scholar can issue a fatwa to reverse it.

Ayatollah Hossein Mazaheri, who is a representative for Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also said the edict remains valid.

"The execution of the divine death sentence remains a duty for every Muslim until the day of resurrection," he said.

Blasphemous book

[ image: Salman Rushdie: Nine years in hiding]
Salman Rushdie: Nine years in hiding
Mr Rushdie has spent nearly a decade in hiding since the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death in 1989, claiming his book, "The Satanic Verses," blasphemed Islam.

The Iranian Government's move to distance itself from the fatwa has also come under attack in Iranian newspapers.

One of the two main right-wing newspapers in Tehran, Jumhouri Islami, said that nothing had changed to the benefit of Mr Rushdie. His wishful thinking, it said, might actually hasten the implementation of the fatwa.

Another newspaper, Kayhan, which is generally seen as reflecting the views of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attacked Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

It said he must clarify the situation immediately, lest the country find itself with a government which was opposing Islam.

On Sunday, foreign ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammedi said recent government moves did not mean that the fatwa no longer applied.

He then launched a bitter attack on Mr Rushdie accusing him of making further insulting remarks that would increase the hatred of Muslims towards him.

The BBC Correspondent in Tehran says that the backlash in Iran is making the British agreement with Iran look much shakier than it did at first, and the issue seems to be stirring up a hornet's nest in Iranian politics.

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