Rushdie's repentance doesn't lift death sentence, say Moslems in Iran, Britain Khomeini's decree called irreversible

December 27, 1990|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The 22-month-old Islamic death sentence on author Salman Rushdie still stands despite his repentance this week for offending Moslems with his book "The Satanic Verses," according to spiritual leaders in Iran and Britain.

They rejected Mr. Rushdie's renewal of his own Islamic faith and his promise not to allow publication of a paperback version of the book as sufficient grounds for lifting the death threat.

The author's shift would not change the "divine ruling" that his blasphemy must be punished by death, said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme religious ruler of Iran.

He noted that in originally imposing the death sentence, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had said it would remain unchanged "even if he repents and becomes the most pious man of his time."

Mohammed Siddique, leader of the Moslem Youth Movement of Great Britain, said the author, accused of blasphemy, could never be forgiven. The death sentence would remain until all Moslem demands were met, he said.

He called for withdrawal of all hardback copies of the book and for an undertaking that it would never be produced in any form again.

"Realistically, I don't think anything he does could please Moslems," Mr. Siddique said.

"Nothing in the world could lift that sad fact."

Mr. Rushdie, who has been in hiding under police guard since the "fatwah," or religious death sentence, was imposed, announced his repentance after meeting this week with Moslem leaders.

He pledged to continue to work for "a better understanding of Islam" and expressed the hope that it was "the beginning of the end" of the death threat.

The broadcast from Tehran yesterday --ed those hopes and condemned the author, who has been seen in public only occasionally, to further isolation.

"The imam's edict . . . and the Moslem's commitment to implement it are bearing their first fruits on the scene of confrontation between Islam and world infidelity," Ayatollah Khamenei said.

He noted that "certain pseudo-Moslem persons" -- apparently referring to the leaders, including Egypt's minister for religious affairs, who met Mr. Rushdie on Christmas Eve -- had helped him form his repentance but said that it would not change the condemnation.

Also in Tehran, the hard-line newspaper Jomhori Islami (Islamic Republic) said Mr. Rushdie should prepare to die bravely.

"If Rushdie's repentance and his return to Islam is seen as a sign of his braveness, naturally it is necessary that he shows greater braveness and prepares himself for death," said the newspaper, according to a report carried by Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency.

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