Group concerned over fatwa increase

Journalists being targeted by religious officials

SOUTH AFRICA — Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers has expressed concern over a surge in fatwas, or religious decrees, calling for the murder of journalists in Arab and Muslim countries.

“From Nigeria to Pakistan, and via Saudi Arabia, many journalists have been targeted by religious officials in recent years after writing articles or broadcasting programs viewed as ‘blasphemous’ and ‘anti-Islamic,’ ” the rights group said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia’s top judge, Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, earlier this month sparked controversy when he said on radio that the owners of satellite networks broadcasting “immoral” programs may be killed.

He later toned down his fatwa by saying that “depraved” television owners could only be put to death after a judicial process.

“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,” Reporters Sans Frontiers said.

“We urge religious officials to show moderation so that no irreparable steps are taken. The highest Islamic authorities should publicly condemn such fatwas.”

In 2003, two journalists were targeted by fatwas for articles they wrote on Afghanistan, while an Iranian cleric called for two Azerbaijani journalists to be killed in December 2006 over an article on the “superiority” of European values.

Last year, a Pakistani cleric issued a fatwa against the staff of fashion magazine Octane over a series of photos headlined “Adam and Eve, the apple of discord.”

On the other hand, said Reporters Without Frontiers, 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 BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who had been held hostage in the Gaza Strip.