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High-ranking official issues fatwa against media professionals for spreading "depravity"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced its deep concern about an upsurge in fatwas (religious decrees) calling for the murder of journalists in the Arab and Muslim world.

In the latest case, a high-ranking Saudi official, Sheikh Saleh al-Luhidan, president of the superior council of jurisprudence, issued a fatwa on 12 September 2008 calling for the murder of owners of Arabic satellite television stations for spreading "depravity".

"From Nigeria to Pakistan, and via Saudi Arabia, many journalists have been targeted by religious officials in recent years after writing articles or broadcasting programmes viewed as 'blasphemous' and 'anti-Islamic'", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"These fatwas constitute calls for murder that endanger the lives of journalists who are already working in conditions made more difficult by the delicate political context in which they have to operate. We urge religious officials to show moderation so that no irreparable steps are taken. The highest Islamic authorities should publicly condemn such fatwas", it added.

The religious dignitary in the Saudi case played down his comments a few days later, in the face of an outcry prompted by his statements, but still without backing down on the validity of his edict.

"It is lawful to kill (. . .) the advocates of depravity (. . .) if their evil is not removed by simple sanctions. The situation is very serious (. . .), moral depravity being a form of perversion on earth", Sheikh Saleh al-Luhidan said on a local Saudi radio. He was replying to a question from a listener about "immoral" programmes (variety and entertainment programmes) broadcast on satellite television during the month of Ramadan.

Fatwas against journalists have become increasingly common in recent years. Two journalists were targeted by fatwas in 2003 after they condemned the backward nature of Islam practised in Afghanistan. An Iranian ayatollah called for two Azerbaijani journalists to be killed in December 2006 after they wrote an article about the superiority of European values. More recently, a Pakistani religious leader declared a fatwa in June 2007 against the editorial staff of fashion magazine "Octane", based on a series of photos headlined "Adam and Eve, the apple of discord".

On the other hand, a fatwa issued by the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the highest religious authorities in the Palestinian territories, brought forward the release in 2007 of British journalist Alan Johnston, who was held hostage in the Gaza Strip.

For further information on the two Azerbaijani journalists, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/79904

For further information on the "Octane" case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/84225

For further information on the Johnston case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/84581

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