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Iranian Singer Gets Jail Term For Koran Disrespect

Mohsen Namjoo, undated

Mohsen Namjoo, undated

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- An Iranian singer and composer who has been likened to Bob Dylan has received a five-year jail sentence in absentia for disrespecting religious sanctities, according to Iranian television.

An Iranian Koran scholar filed a complaint against Mohsen Namjoo, who also plays a traditional Persian lute, for the way he had performed using verses from Islam's holy book, Iran's official English-language Press TV said on its website late on July 13.

The scholar, who Press TV did not name, accused Namjoo of "an insulting, sneering performance of Koranic verses with musical instruments."

It quoted the singer's brother and lawyer as dismissing the accusation, saying he "did not mean any disrespect". Press TV said Namjoo, who apologized a few months ago for the incident, was abroad but did not say in which country.

Iran's Fars news agency quoted a judge on July 13 as confirming that Namjoo was found guilty "subsequent to an investigation of the complaint against him" but he did not give details on the sentence.

In a report posted on its website last week, the semi-official Iran's Quran News Agency named the plaintiff as Abbas Salimi and quoted him as saying Namjoo was accused of "derisive rendering of Koran verses and disrespect towards" the holy book.

The news agency said the sentence against Namjoo, who is in his early 30s, was handed down last month.

In a 2007 profile, "The New York Times" said Namjoo's "playful but subtly cutting lyrics about growing up in an Islamic state" had made him "the most controversial, and certainly the most daring, figure in Persian music today."

It added, "Some call him a genius, a sort of Bob Dylan of Iran, and say his satirical music accurately reflects the frustrations and disillusionment of young Iranians."