Met police urged to prosecute Iranian accused of backing Rushdie fatwa

Officers are reviewing a dossier accusing Sayed Ataollah Mohajerani, who lives in London, of encouraging terrorism

The Metropolitan police is being urged to crack down on Iranian terrorism in the UK by prosecuting a former senior Iranian government official accused of advocating the fatwa against Sir Salman Rushdie.

The Metropolitan police has been studying a legal dossier accusing Sayed Ataollah Mohajerani, who lives in Britain, of encouraging terrorism contrary to the 2006 Terror Act. He denies the claims.

Four months after being presented with the dossier, the police have told those making the accusation that the complex issues raised require considerable resources and more time to investigate.

The fatwa was imposed on Rushdie by the previous Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, in February 1989 and has never been revoked. Last August, Rushdie was stabbed multiple times at a literary festival in Chautauqua, New York.

The UK has promised a new harsher line against Iran in the wake of the execution there of the former Iranian deputy defence minister Alireza Akbari, but has so far only recalled its ambassador from Tehran and imposed sanctions on the Iranian prosecutor general.

An Iranian human rights lawyer, Kaveh Moussavi, and a British solicitor, Rebecca Mooney, representing the human rights charity Ending Immunity, filed a lengthy complaint against Mohajerani in August. They claim Mohajerani was deputy to the prime minister in 1988 and vice-president for parliamentary and legal affairs between 1989 and 1997, during a period when hundreds of assassinations of dissidents in Europe were attempted and committed on the orders of the Iranian regime.

They claim he made no attempt to stop the killings, and since living in London has frequently praised the late Gen Qasem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a national hero of Iran and Islam.

Specifically, they claim his 1989 book, A Critique of the Satanic Verses Conspiracy, with the support and cooperation of the Iranian regime’s propaganda offices, endorses and justifies the fatwa against Rushdie, claiming it “promotes, encourages and calls on Muslims to murder him, his editors, translators, and publishers, as well as all authors who have publicly supported him.” The book has been republished 30 times subsequently.

They say the statements contained in Mohajerani’s book make it clear that his view is that the fatwa is religiously justified and irrevocable, and that as Rushdie is identified as “mortad” [apostate], that recantation is impossible. “As such, Rushdie is powerless to do anything about the continued permanent existence of the fatwa,” they claim. “According to the fatwa, as justified and promoted by Mohajerani, there is no place on Earth where Rushdie can be free from the persistent threat of death.”

The book describes Rushdie as an apostate, anti-Muslim, anti-revolutionary mercenary and agent of the west. At one point, Mohajerani writes: “[Rushdie] was born in a Muslim family; his libels and slanders and defamations are deliberate and Salman Rushdie is mature and of sound mind. Therefore given what has just been said he is an absolute mortad and the punishment of mortad, and specifically the slander of the prophet of Allah, is execution.”

Mohajerani, a resident in Britain since 2004, has said the book does not justify the fatwa but merely is a critique of the novel and seeks to explain its religious origins. He adds: “When Salman Rushdie was attacked by an American citizen, I tweeted that: I hope Salman Rushdie will recover from this event, and based on William Falkner’s advice, write a novel through concentrating on the beauties and moral values, at the service of human beings. On the contrary, in the Satanic Verses, he added a huge amount of oil to the fire. Hopefully he will find a proper chance to correct himself.”

He also claims that due to the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive in Iran he had no role in the executions of prisoners in 1988, saying: “It was not only me as a deputy of the prime minister that had not any role in this event, the prime minister himself played no role either. I need to emphasise that the judiciary system of Iran is completely separate and independent from the government, and therefore there is no intervention in its affairs.”

Mooney argued: “The UK has obligations in international law to prosecute international crimes. The only discretion is whether the international prosecutor has sufficient evidence for there to be a reasonable prospect to secure a prosecution and whether it is in the public interest. But there is a ton of evidence.

“The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens – that requires preemptive, prosecutorial and punitive measures where appropriate. That is why we have terrorism laws including promoting terrorism through speech. It is meaningless to have these laws if we do not prosecute.

Moussavi predicted there would be the equivalent of a thermonuclear explosion in the IRGC headquarters if a man such as Mohajerani was arrested. “It would mean not a single one of these people would be safe because they will come to recognise that international criminal law allows for no amnesty.

“There are already plans inside the IRGC to leave the country. Look at the state of the currency, the collapse in the price of real estate and the scale of the activities of the money brokers.”

He continued: “If Mohajerani was a member of the government whose ‘independent’ judiciary carried out these murders, he is culpable. The very fact that he maintains that the judiciary in Iran is independent is indicative of his culpability. The idea that this is or was an independent judiciary is plain absurd. That he repeats it confirms again who he really is.

“In law, he was required to protest and do his utmost to stop these crimes and if unable, he must resign. I doubt very much if his defence counsel will offer these concoctions in a court case, as defence or mitigation.”

The Metropolitan police has been approached for comment.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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