Iran cleric offers reward for Azeri writer's death

Tehran, Iran - An Iranian cleric has offered his house as a reward to anyone who kills an Azeri writer he says insulted the Prophet Mohammad, the Fars News Agency reported.

Last week, an Azeri court jailed journalist Rafika Tagi, who wrote an article in Azerbaijan's Senet newspaper illustrated by cartoons of the Prophet. The cartoons were originally published in Denmark and caused an outcry in the Muslim world earlier this year.

Tagi and the paper's editor were each jailed for two months.

"Whoever kills this Azeri writer who insulted the Prophet Mohammad, I will give him my house as a reward," Ayatollah Morteza Bani Fazl said in the northwestern city of Tabriz, Fars reported late on Monday.

The threat echoed a religious ruling, or fatwa, issued by the founder of the Islamic Republic, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, against British author Salman Rushdie for alleged blasphemy in his book "The Satanic Verses."

Ayotallah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, another senior Shi'ite cleric, also said the Azeri writer deserved to be killed based on Khomeini's fatwa, Fars said.

"The sentence issued by Khomeini for Rushdie, could also be carried out against all those who insult Islam and the Prophet," said the cleric, who leads Friday prayers in Tabriz, which is close to the border with Azerbaijan.

Ethnic Azeris make up about 25 percent of Iran's 70 million population.

On Sunday, 50 people gathered in front of the Azeri embassy in Tehran chanting slogans against the author, witnesses said. Police cordoned off the area.