The official Soviet news agency Tass on Wednesday defended the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, suggesting that as Iran’s spiritual leader, he “had no choice” but to impose a death sentence on author Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” has sparked a worldwide furor.
The Tass commentary said the press has distorted and oversimplified Iran’s position on the book, which Muslims find blasphemous.
“But perhaps Imam Khomeini, the supreme religious authority in Iran, had no choice proceeding from Koran teachings other than denouncing a man who has insulted Islam,” Tass said. “The denunciation was nothing more . . . than the position of a religious leader. The Iranian government has not condemned Rushdie to death.”
The Tass commentary came hours after U.S. State Department spokesman Charles Redman criticized the Soviet government’s silence on the issue, saying, “It is high time the Soviets speak up.”
Redman also revealed that the State Department had asked Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze to raise the issue in his talks with Iranian officials last weekend. He did not elaborate but said he expected the issue to resurface in Vienna next week when Secretary of State James A. Baker III meets with Shevardnadze.
The Indian-born Rushdie, a British citizen, has been in hiding with his wife, author Marianne Wiggins, ever since Khomeini ordered him killed on Feb. 14.
Yet the uproar over the book showed no signs of ebbing.
At least 40 people were injured Wednesday when police in the northern India city of Srinagar clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators in another day of protests over the Rushdie book. At least 15 of the injured were police officers, news reports said.
In Tehran, Iranian President Ali Khamenei denounced what he described as the “West’s cultural aggression against Islam through its support for ‘The Satanic Verses,’ ” while Culture and Higher Education Minister Mohammed Farhadi urged the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to condemn the book.
The Iranian daily Abrar newspaper, meanwhile, said that Tuesday’s decision by the Iranian Parliament to sever ties with Britain should also apply to West Germany.
West Germany was among 12 European Community nations to recall top diplomats from Tehran to protest Khomeini’s threat against the British author. The move was taken at Britain’s urging.
In related developments:
-- Fearing it offended Muslims, French singer Veronique Sanson pulled a pop song titled “Allah” from her repertoire after bomb threats to the Paris concert hall where she is performing.
-- About 200 university students in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur rallied against the book, carrying banners with the message “Kill Salman Rushdie.”
-- The Swedish publisher Bonnier said it will advance the Swedish-language release date of “The Satanic Verses” from autumn to summer.