Three Sentenced for Arson Attack on Publisher’s Home

Adrian Versteegh

A judge in London yesterday sentenced three Muslim men to four-and-a-half years in prison for an arson attack against the publisher of a novel about one of Muhammad’s wives. In September 2008, the trio set fire to the home of Martin Rynja just days before his company, Gibson Square, was due to publish The Jewel of Medina by American author Sherry Jones.

Ali Beheshti, forty-one, and Abrar Mirza, twenty-three, pled guilty in April to conspiracy to commit arson, while thirty-year-old Abbas Taj stood trial and was convicted in May. The three doused the front door of Rynja’s home in Islington, north London, with diesel fuel before setting it alight. According to the Guardian, a lawyer for the defense characterized the attack as “an act of protest born of the publication of a book felt by him and other Muslims to be disrespectful, provocative and offensive.” The Jewel of Medina recounts the relationship between the prophet and his child-bride A'isha.

Justice Rafferty of the Royal Courts of Justice rejected arguments that the men had only intended to destroy Rynja’s front door, saying that the three had conspired to “punish” the publisher. “He, principled man that he is, had done two things: exercised critical judgment on a literary work, and stood up to be counted, knowing that publishing it put him at risk,” the Guardian quotes her as saying. “As he said, in an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear.”