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Iranian cleric's call to kill activist challenging country's ban on women cycling

Masih Alinejad has championed women's rights in Iran from exile in the USA...

An Iranian cleric has called on followers to “kill” an award-winning journalist and women’s rights campaigner after she challenged the country’s ban on women cycling.

Masih Alinejad, who lives in exile in the United States, posted a video to Twitter in which the unnamed cleric insisted she should be punished for apostasy – the rejection or renunciation of a religious faith.

“You’ve seen accursed Masih Alinejad and her insult to Saint Zeinab,” he said.

“How do you think we should punish this accursed hooligan?

“She should be punished for apostasy. This accursed person should be punished for apostasy.

“If no-one can kill her, she should at least lead an underground life.

“She provokes our youth – ‘If someone tells you not to ride a bike, tell them this. Talk about Zeinab, Zahra’.”

Making reference to the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie following the publication of the novel The Satanic Verses, he said: “Wasn’t there another infidel abroad who had said something against Islam? He was considered an apostate and killed.

“How about Salman Rushdie? He still lives underground,” the cleric added.

In 2016, Iran’s supreme leader issued a fatwa forbidding women from cycling – with some posting videos to social media of them riding their bikes in response.

A video of a mother and daughter riding their bikes was posted to Facebook group My Stealthy Freedom, founded by Alinejad.

> Video: Women in Iran defy fatwa forbidding them from cycling

The daughter in the video said: “Bicycle riding is part of our lives,” adding that cycling “is our absolute right and we’re not going to give it up.”

Women’s rights campaigners in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa see cycling as an essential form of freedom, and the right to ride a bike – and the response of the authorities in Iran to women who do so – is something that Alinejad regularly highlights on social media and elsewhere.

Alinejad also founded the White Wednesdays movement in which Iranian women are encouraged to post photos of themselves online without a hijab or with a white headscarf to protest against Iran’s strict laws regarding women’s dress.

Last July, secret police in Tehran arrested her brother, Alireza Alinejad and two siblings of her former husband, in what she described as “hostage taking.”

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa research director, said at the time: “These arrests are a blatant attempt by the Iranian authorities to punish Masih Alinejad for her peaceful work defending women’s rights.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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