Published May 21, 2012
The Iranian-born rapper marked for death for insulting a ninth-century imam and criticizing Tehran's regime as corrupt is determined to press his message to young fans, according to the German author who hid Shahin Najafi in his home.
Najafi, whose song "Ay Naghi" brought two fatwas, or calls for his death, within days of its release on Facebook, will not be intimidated, though he knows he cannot perform live, according to Gunter Wallraff, a non-fiction writer who hid Najafi until German police found him and placed him in a safehouse.
“On the contrary, he feels responsible to himself and to his many young followers, especially in Iran, not to give in,” Wallraff said in an exclusive interview with FoxNews.com. “The death threats show that this regime needs the image of an enemy because it can no longer offer any values and is therefore looking for helpless victims.”
Najafi, 32, who is a German citizen and has lived in Cologne, is a star in his homeland, where he has 200,000 fans on his Facebook page. He fled to Germany in 2005 after being sentenced to a hundred lashes and three years in jail. But his new song brought the ultimate sentence because it is considered an insult to a ninth-century Shiite imam, Ali al Hadi al-Naqi, also known as Imam Naghi. Shiites venerate al-Naqi, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. An Iranian website, Shia Online, has offered $100,000 to anyone who kills Najafi.
The death threat has roiled Germany's 100,000-strong Iranian community and forced Najafi to cancel all his scheduled appearances. Najafi’s fans argue that Iran’s mullahs have deprived Najafi of freedom of speech, a right enshrined in the German Constitution, and many have criticized German officials for failing to denounce Iran over the issue.
“We asked the foreign minister to make a statement of support for Shahin Najafi and for democratic Iranians who live here and to condemn the fatwa,” said Ulrike Becker, founder of Stop the Bomb, a European coalition that opposes Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. She referred to the fatwa as “a declaration of war against our values – our democracy.”
Najafi’s song calls on the revered Shia figure to come back and help the Iranians with problems like “hollow slogans” and “Chinese-made prayer rugs.”
The song, which is laced with profanity, includes the lyric: "I swear to you on bland and hollow slogans; Naghi, I swear on this shifting flocks of people; They say “Long Live” in the morning and “Death to” at night; On the heroes of fictional stories.”
Najafi was surprised by the harsh reaction.
“The song was not written to provoke anyone,” he told the Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung. “I have nothing against Islam. I am not fighting a religion, but I am fighting this regime. No one has harmed Islam more than this regime.”
Najafi claims the regime wants to silence him because he deals with subjects that are taboo in puritanical Iran, such as sexuality, gays and drug addiction. He knows his career outlook is bleak.
“I can’t continue my work because a singer must appear in public," he told the paper. "I can’t do that anymore. I was advised to leave Cologne, but where should I go and how?”
Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy and one of Germany’s leading authorities on Iran, said fatwas can inhibit free speech far outside Iran's borders.
“This strategy is menacing the world,” said Wahdat-Hagh. “Fatwas are declaring war on the principles of free speech in the free world.”
But Najafi's young fans cannot be silenced, Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian journalist living in Berlin, told FoxNews.com.
“They may be able to arrest many of us for supporting Najafi,” she said in a telephone interview. “But they can’t arrest millions of us. They see his work as showing how devastating the situation in Iran is.”
Wallraff said he knew his life was also in danger while he hid Najafi, but he refused to give in to intimidation.
“I ignore the threat," Wallraff told FoxNews.com. "Fear is always the worst counselor.”