22 Feb 2016
TEHRAN — A group of hard-line Iranian news media organizations says it has raised $600,000 to add to a bounty for the killing of the British novelist Salman Rushdie.
Iran’s former supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, in 1989 calling for Mr. Rushdie to be killed because of his book “The Satanic Verses,” which the ayatollah found to be blasphemous and insulting toward Muslims. Mr. Rushdie has since then been living largely out of sight and under the protection of bodyguards.
The semiofficial Fars news agency, one of the organizations involved, reported that the new reward money was gathered during a trade fair called the Islamic Republic’s Digital Media Exhibition. It quoted the secretary of the exhibition saying that the $600,000 had been announced last week to mark the anniversary of the 1989 fatwa.
The Iranian government distanced itself from calls for Mr. Rushdie’s death under former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who declared in 1998 that the fatwa had ended. But the religious authorities said it could not be withdrawn by anyone other than Ayatollah Khomeini, who died four months after issuing it. His successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 that the fatwa remained valid.
The decree had already put a considerable price on Mr. Rushdie’s head: A religious organization called the 15 Khordad Foundation initially offered a $2.7 million reward to anyone carrying out the fatwa, then increased it to $3.3 million in 2012. The new money, bringing the total bounty to nearly $4 million, came from 40 news outlets listed by Fars, which said that it had contributed $30,000.
Iranian hard-line organizations tend to make symbolic gestures involving the Rushdie fatwa every year around its anniversary, Feb. 14. Whether the bounty really would be paid is unclear. Many news organizations in Iran do not turn a profit, and some are subsidized by state organizations.
The announcement highlights the continuing political infighting in Iran as elections approach for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts, a council that would choose the next supreme leader. The government of President Hassan Rouhani has promised to improve relations with the West, while his hard-line opponents have campaigned against any opening. Analysts said the hard-liners may have been seeking an electoral edge by raising the Rushdie matter now.
“This is just to overshadow the elections, because the hard-liners and their media want to dissuade people from voting in large numbers,” said Mojgan Faraji, a reformist journalist. She said the hard-liners drag up issues from the past to confuse people and to “make other issues more important than voting.”