But in a case with echoes of the Iranian fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie, the British government hinted on Tuesday that police were considering special protection for Manouchehr Fouladvand in view of an increasing number of death threats.

   

Clerics in Iran have not issued a religious edict, or fatwa, calling for Fouladvand to be killed, as Iran's late Supreme Leader Ayat Allah Ruh Allah Khomeini did in Rushdie's case in 1989.

   

But his broadcasts on the US-based Farsi-language Ma-TV, in which he frequently mocks the Prophet Muhammad and Islam's holy book the Quran, have upset many Iranians and spurred hardline commentators to call for his death.

   

"The firing of a bullet into his damned and blasphemous head is an incontestable necessity, and how cherished is the emissary of that bullet," Husain Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the official Kayhan daily, said in an editorial.

   

Denying accusations

 

Shariatmadari and other Iranians have accused Britain's intelligence services of funding Ma-TV, something London denies.

   

"The British government does not share Mr Fouladvand's views," said Matthew Gould, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Tehran. "We deplore any attacks on Islam. We condemn those who stir up division."

   

"The firing of a bullet into his damned and blasphemous head is an incontestable necessity, and how cherished is the emissary of that bullet"

Husain Shariatmadari,
Editor-in-chief Kayhan

"The British government does not support Ma-TV, does not agree with Ma-TV, and has given no backing or assistance to Ma-TV," he said.

   

"However, because of the threats to kill Mr Fouladvand, the British police need to consider his security," Gould said.

 

"This does not imply any support for his views ... This sort of approach is essential if we are to have a society based on the rule of law."

   

Rushdie update

 

Rushdie brought the wrath of many Muslims with his book The Satanic Verses, which Khomeini said was blasphemous.

 

Khomeini said it was the duty of Muslims to kill Rushdie and a $2.5 million bounty was placed on the author's head.

   

The Iranian government in 1998 said it no longer supported the mission to kill Rushdie, although it could not rescind Khomeini's fatwa.