Australian newspaper blamed disappearance of murdered woman on ‘Muslim hardliners’

Barney ZwartzLast week the Melbourne newspaper The Age ran a piece about a Christian convert of Iranian origin named Mandy Ahmadi (formerly Zahara Ramizadegan) who had been reported missing by her husband.

Readers were told of fears that Mrs Ahmadi had been “abducted by Muslim hardliners because of her attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity”. The notorious anti-Muslim bigot Danny Nalliah, head of the right-wing Christian fundamentalist Catch The Fire Ministries, was quoted as suggesting that “her zeal had come to the attention of militants, possibly in Iran itself”.

The author of The Age‘s report, the paper’s religious affairs correspondent Barney Zwartz [pictured], helpfully explained: “Islam, strictly interpreted, mandates death for adults who leave the religion, and there are many cases of Iranian converts being killed, both in Iran and in Europe. The same penalty may be applied to those who seek to persuade Muslims to leave their religion.”

No evidence at all was presented by Zwartz to support this far-fetched explanation of Mrs Ahmadi’s disappearance, because none existed. Nor does he appear to have checked the allegation with police investigating the case. A Sky News report later that day stated clearly: “Police have rejected suggestions that Zahara Rahimzadegan, also known as Mandy Ahmadi, could have been taken by religious hardliners as retribution for her role in converting Muslims to Christianity.”

Yesterday The Age reported that Mandy Ahmadi’s body had been found buried under a concrete slab in the backyard of her home and that her husband had admitted to killing her. The original version of this report stated that Mr Ahmadi had made “extraordinary claims of religious retribution” against his wife. Understandably, given The Age‘s own role in promoting and giving credence to these entirely spurious claims, the report has since been rewritten to omit that point.