9 January 1995

Doc. 7212

REPORT on the protection of Salman Rushdie

(Rapporteur: Mr FRANCK, Sweden, Socialist Group)


Summary

      It is now more than five years since a religious decree (fatwah) passed a death sentence on Salman Rushdie and anyone involved in the publication of his book "The Satanic Verses". Although the case has attracted much international attention, the decree has still not been lifted by the Iranian authorities. It has led to at least one assassination and to several serious injuries. Unfortunately, the case of Salman Rushdie is not an isolated one. In countries where Muslim fundamentalists hold sway hundreds of people are persecuted in similar ways for their views.

      The Assembly condemns such acts as constituting grave violations of the right to freedom of thought and expression guaranteed by Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It calls on member states to give their support to Salman Rushdie and to other people subjected to similar persecutions, and asks them to exert pressure on the Iranian Government to repeal the "decree".

I. Draft resolution

1.       The Assembly is deeply concerned that, for over five years, Salman Rushdie and anyone involved in the publication of his book "The Satanic Verses" have been under threat from a death sentence imposed by the Iranian authorities.

2.       It condemns the incitation to murder constituted by this decree and the huge reward offered to any Muslim who implements it.

3.       It condemns the acts perpetrated in connection with this sentence, which have already cost the life of a translator and caused serious injury to several other people.

4.       The Assembly reiterates its commitment to the respect of human rights and in particular the freedom of thought and expression guaranteed by Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

5.       With the support of the statements made by various national and international bodies, it calls on the Iranian Government and other authorities to repeal the death sentence passed on Salman Rushdie and anyone involved in the publication of his book.

6.       It invites the governments of the member states

i.       to afford protection to Salman Rushdie when he visits their country;

ii.       to seek the lifting of the religious decree (fatwah) against Salman Rushdie;

iii.       to make the resumption or continuation of their trade and diplomatic relations with Iran contingent on this decree being repealed;

iv.       to consider the negative influence of the Salman Rushdie case on other cases, among them the writer Taslima Nasreen, and take similar action against all these persecutions.

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Mr FRANCK

1.       On 14 February 1989, a religious decree (fatwah) passed a death sentence on Salman Rushdie and anyone involved in the publication of his book "The Satanic Verses". A reward of two and a half million pounds (over 20 million French francs) was promised to any Muslim implementing the decree.

2.       The decree has been reiterated on numerous occasions. It was confirmed by the 46 members of the Islamic Conference in April 1990. Efforts have also been made to implement it. Several bookshops in the United Kingdom were attacked because they stocked "The Satanic Verses". The Japanese translator of the book was assassinated on 11 July 1991; the Italian translator had been seriously injured several days previously. In October 1993, the Norwegian publisher of the book was seriously injured in an attack.

3.       Salman Rushdie has publicly expressed apologies to any Muslims who may have been offended by his book. But, according to the Iranian authorities, the decree is irrevocable.

4.       The decree and the huge reward accompanying it constitute an incitation to murder contrary to all legal principles.

5.       For the last five years, Salman Rushdie, who is a British subject, has been forced to live in hiding under the protection of the British Government. His protection is a burden to the British Government and consequently to the country's taxpayers, estimated at 5 million pounds a year.

6.       After several years of total isolation, Salman Rushdie, with the support of the "Article 19" organisation, named after Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, decided to travel around in a bid to put pressure on authorities and publicise his cause. He has been to over fifteen countries, despite the considerable difficulties posed by his travelling and the cost of his protection, borne by the British authorities in cases where the country visited does not wish to provide it.

7.       If the Salman Rushdie case continues to be featured by press and media it is because he is a well-known western writer and a national of a European state, but it should be realised that hundreds of others have had fatwahs issued against them in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria and any country where Muslim fundamentalists hold sway.

8.       At the time of writing this report, the writer Taslima Nasreen, also sentenced to death, not by the authorities but by a Bangladeshi Muslim fundamentalist group, is nevertheless being prosecuted by the government for "insults to religious sentiment" on the basis of a book. The Turkish writer Aziz Nessin is being similarly persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists after he published excerpts from Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses" in his country.

9.       At the same time, hundreds of intellectuals in Algeria are being victimised by the religious fanaticism of a fundamentalist party which is prohibiting all teaching in the country.

10.       Its communique "prohibits all students from attending secondary school or university", stating that "all those contravening this ban will be severely punished".

11.       What crime has been committed by this man put forward for public condemnation? He is simply the author of a book, a work of fiction, and has done nothing other than exercise the universal right to the freedom of thought and expression guaranteed in Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by all Council of Europe member states.

12.       While this has become an issue in international politics, it is not a purely political question, but a question of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Action at national and international level

13.       The European Council, meeting in Edinburgh in December 1992, clearly stated that improved behaviour on the part of Iran in a number of matters, including the fatwah against Mr Rushdie, would be a key factor in determining to what extent closer links could be forged with that country.

14.       The German Parliament adopted a resolution, also in December 1992, asking that the federal government inform the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the German Parliament would hold Iran legally responsible for any attacks on Salman Rushdie, in which case Iran should be aware that its own political and economic interests would be damaged. The parliament asked the Iranian Government to take all measures within its power to halt the implementation of the fatwah and to withdraw it.

15.       A few days later, the Canadian Parliament expressed its support for Salman Rushdie in a resolution asking the Canadian Government to seek the lifting of the fatwah.

16.       The American secretary of state for communication said that the United States condemned the fatwah. In March 1993, the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Belgium expressed the country's concern over the attitude of the Iranian authorities and vigorously denounced the fatwah as an unacceptable violation of international law.

17.       Also in March 1993, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning Iran for numerous violations of human rights and referring to the case of Salman Rushdie.

18.       In championing the cause of Salman Rushdie, these governments are taking the defence not of an author whose work had him sentenced to death but of the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are under threat, namely freedom of thought, freedom of expression and above all the right to life.

Action by the Parliamentary Assembly

19.       The Assembly has a duty to reiterate its commitment to the respect of human rights and in particular freedom of thought and expression. It should therefore condemn the human rights violations constituted by the fatwah against Salman Rushdie.

20.       It should invite the governments of the member states to afford protection to Salman Rushdie when he visits their country.

21.       It should call on Iran to lift the fatwah against Salman Rushdie.

22.       It should invite the governments of the member states to make the resumption or continuation of trade and diplomatic relations with Iran contingent on this decree being repealed.

      Reporting committee: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

      Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

      Reference to committee: Doc. 6797, Reference No. 1860 of 26 March 1993.

      Draft resolution adopted unanimously by the committee on 25 October 1994.

      Members of the committee: Lord Kirkhill (Chairman), MM. Schwimmer, Jansson, (Vice-Chairmen), Amaral, Andriukaitis, Arnalds, Bentkowski, Berti, Bindig, Borg, Bučar, Candal, Columberg, Croze, Deasy, Mrs Err, MM. Espersen, Fogaš, Franck, Frunda, Fry, Fuhrmann, Galanos (Alternate: Hadjidemetriou), Mrs Gelderblom-Lankhout, MM. Ghigo, Guenov, Hagĺrd, Mrs Haller (Alternate: Mr Schiesser), Mrs Holand, MM. Hunault, Inönü, Mrs Jaani, MM. Jaskiernia, Karas, Kempinaire, Loutfi, van der Maelen, Maginas, Mangakis, Mészáros, Németh, Rathbone, Robles Fraga, Rodeghiero, Salvi, von Schmude, Severin, Solé Tura, Mrs Soutendijk-van Appeldoorn, MM. Trojan, Vinçon (Alternate: Jeambrun), Vogel, Mrs Wohlwend, N... (Alternate: Mimaroglu).

      N.B.       The names of those members who took part in the vote are printed in italics.

      Secretaries to the committee: Mr Plate, Ms Bakardjieva and Ms Kleinsorge.