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Iranian Rapper Fears for His Life After Fatwa (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By FARNAZ FASSIHI BEIRUT, LEBANON 05/16/12)Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304192704577406452748670584.html WALL STREET JOURNAL WALL STREET JOURNAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
BEIRUT—Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi expected his song calling on a Shiite saint to save Iran from its current rulers to stir up controversy, but he never imagined it might cost him his life.

He is now being dubbed the Salman Rushdie of music after two influential clerics in Iran issued fatwas—religious edicts—justifying his murder on grounds of blasphemy.

"I am still in disbelief. I´m only 31, with my whole life ahead of me," said Mr. Najafi in an interview from Germany, where he lives and, since last week, has been in hiding under the protection of German police.

Mr. Najafi says he doesn´t regret the song and refuses to apologize, arguing that invoking a saint´s name is a freedom of expression and not a religious insult. "Each person has to pay a price for what they want. I will never apologize for my art and for speaking the truth about Iran´s government," said Mr. Najafi.

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Iranian officials haven´t commented on the fatwas or denounced them. But the case could present a new public-image problem for Iran ahead of talks next week with the international community in Baghdad over its nuclear program.

In recent months, Iran has sought to improve its image as a rogue nation by offering conciliatory remarks to build trust with the West. The efforts paid off to some extent at an initial meeting in March in Istanbul, where both sides claimed the negotiations ended on a positive note, paving the way for a second round set to begin on May 23 in Baghdad. Iran says the world should trust its word that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The senior clerics empowered to issue fatwas act independently of the government—but anyone who carries out a death fatwa is granted impunity under Iranian law.

"Iranian authorities could make it very clear that people who are inciting murder could be held accountable, and that´s something they aren´t currently doing," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International´s deputy program director for Middle East and Africa.

After Mr. Najafi released his song "Naqi" online on May 7, Iranian media and conservative bloggers said it was in violation of an earlier fatwa calling for the execution of anyone who blasphemes the 10th saint of Shiite Islam, Ali an-Naqi. A subsequent fatwa by another grand ayatollah declared that a singer who had been insulting the saint was guilty of blasphemy—giving the green light for his followers to kill Mr. Najafi, though the fatwa didn´t mention the rapper by name. Both rulings have been repeated in Iranian media.

An Iranian website, Shia-Online, subsequently put a $100,000 bounty on Mr. Najafi´s head, and more than 100 people, joining an online "campaign to execute Shahin Najafi," have pledged further rewards.

Mr. Najafi, a native of a small port town in southern Iran, fled to Germany in 2005 after he said an intelligence agent threatened him for staging underground concerts. His angry lyrics touch on rights abuses, stifling social norms and other difficulties of life in Iran, and in "Naqi," he calls on the saint to save the country. He says he is too young to go into hiding, but fears he might never be safe in Europe.

After the fatwa issued by the Iranian revolution´s founding father Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against Mr. Rushdie in 1989, the British- Indian writer went into hiding for years, and Iran suffered diplomatic fallout with Europe. While Mr. Najafi isn´t nearly as renowned as Mr. Rushdie and the clerics who issued the fatwa aren´t as powerful as Iran´s supreme leader, the threat to his life is serious, human-rights organizations say.

—David Crawford contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 05/16/12)

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