Pro-Iranian group chief 'praised fatwa against Salman Rushdie'

Massoud Shadjareh is accused of telling Islamophobia conference in 2021 that Muslims thought publishing of The Satanic Verses 'was wrong'

A supporter holds up a placard at a rally in New York in solidarity with Sir Salman Rushdie. AFP
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The head of a pro-Iranian non-profit group based in Britain voiced support for the fatwa calling for the death of Sir Salman Rushdie, it has been claimed.

Massoud Shadjareh, founder and chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), allegedly backed the death sentence imposed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the former Iranian supreme leader, in 1989.

The commission has benefited from £1.4 million ($1.6m) in charity cash.

Rushdie was left fighting for his life after being stabbed at an event in New York this month. The well-known author has since been removed from a ventilator and is on the road to recovery.

Mr Shadjareh, 70, has in the past backed Iran’s fatwa calling for the killing of the author over his writing of the controversial novel The Satanic Verses, according to a report by The Mail on Sunday.

“I am old enough to remember what was happening at the time of the Rushdie affair,” Mr Shadjareh is reported to have told a conference on Islamophobia in December.

“We weren't organised as a Muslim community. We didn't even have any huge national umbrella organisations.

“But ordinary Muslims from all different backgrounds, even those who were not fully practising, they came with the understanding that this was wrong and they supported the fatwa against this.”

Mr Shadjareh was quoted in the newspaper as saying his speech late last year “or more broadly the issues around the ‘fatwa’ and the Muslim community’s response to it” may have been misunderstood.

He said he would be open to having a public discussion on the topic and explain “what Muslims in general and I in particular feel about the matter”.

The man accused of stabbing Rushdie last week pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.

Hadi Matar, 24, appeared at a hearing at Chautauqua County Court in New York state on Thursday after being indicted by a grand jury.

Pictures showed him handcuffed in a grey striped jumpsuit and white face mask..

Mr Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested after allegedly rushing on to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday, August 12, stabbing Rushdie about a dozen times, including in the neck and eye, in front of a crowd.

He was charged with one count of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and one count of second-degree assault.

Judge David Foley refused to grant Mr Matar bail, according to court papers.

Defending lawyer Nathaniel Barone argued that Mr Matar had no criminal record and would not flee the country if released.

Mr Foley ordered the lawyers involved in the case not to give interviews to the media.

Chautauqua County district attorney Jason Schmidt told the court that Mr Matar had travelled to the area on Thursday, August 11 from his home in New Jersey carrying "false identification, cash, prepaid Visa cards and multiple knives".

Updated: August 21, 2022, 1:02 PM