U.S. judge denies bail for man accused in attack on author Salman Rushdie

A judge refused to grant bail Thursday to the man accused of trying to kill Salman Rushdie as the acclaimed author prepared to give a talk in western New York.

Lawyer for accused had sought bail, citing client's lack of prior criminal record

A man in a COVID-19 mask and a prison-issued shirt listens in a court session.
Hadi Matar is shown at a court hearing on Aug. 13 during an arraignment in the Chautauqua County courthouse in Mayville, N.Y. He has been charged with attempted murder and assault after an attack on author Salman Rushdie. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

A judge refused to grant bail Thursday to the man accused of trying to kill Salman Rushdie, as the acclaimed author prepared to give a talk in western New York.

Hadi Matar, 24, appeared in a western New York courtroom after a grand jury indicted him on charges that he allegedly rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbed Rushdie multiple times in front of a horrified crowd.

Dressed in a black and white jail uniform, Matar stayed quiet during the hearing while his lawyer unsuccessfully tried to persuade the judge that he should be released while he awaited trial. Public defender Nathaniel Barone said Matar had no criminal record and wouldn't flee the country if released.

Barone also asked the judge to do something to stop reporters from trying to contact Matar at the Chautauqua County jail. The lawyer said the jail had received "several hundred phone calls" from people trying to reach Matar.

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Some of that media outreach resulted in Matar giving a brief interview to the New York Post, in which he talked about disliking Rushdie and praised Iran's late supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khomeini issued an edict in 1989 demanding Rushdie's death over his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims consider blasphemous. A semi-official Iranian foundation had posted a bounty of more than $3 million US.

Concerns about media coverage

Matar's lawyer complained that the media coverage could potentially lead to a biased jury.

"He's entitled to a fair trial. He's entitled to due process, no matter what he's accused of," Barone said.

Judge David Foley ordered the lawyers involved in the case not to give interviews. "No speaking to the press until we have resolved this issue," the judge said.

Rushdie, 75, is getting treatment in a Pennsylvania hospital for severe wounds.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said during Thursday's court hearing that Matar allegedly stabbed Rushdie a dozen times in the neck, stomach, chest, hand and right eye, before he could be stopped by shocked bystanders.

The author was seated in a chair at the lakeside retreat on Aug. 12, waiting to be introduced for a discussion of protections for writers in exile and freedom of expression when he was attacked.

Henry Reese, 73, was onstage with Rushdie and suffered a gash to his forehead, bruising and other minor injuries.

Matar, who lived in Fairview, N.J., with his mother, is charged with attempted murder and assault. He could get decades in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

LISTEN | The fatwa on Salman Rushdie, 3 decades later:

The writer Salman Rushdie is still recovering in hospital from a brutal attack at a literary event last Friday. A young man rushed onstage and stabbed Rushdie nearly a dozen times, leaving him with injuries so severe he may lose an eye. While Rushdie himself has never been attacked like this before, this isn't the first attempt on his life. He has been targeted by death threats ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death in 1989. The fatwa was over Rushdie's 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, parts of which some Muslims consider blasphemous. The uproar over the book led to huge protests in many countries, pushed Rushdie into hiding for nearly a decade, and led to the deaths of several people around the world. In England, where Rushdie was based, many people believe it also transformed U.K. society — particularly relations between British Muslims and non-Muslims. Today, we're looking back at The Satanic Verses affair and its long-term impacts with Mobeen Azhar, a BBC journalist and filmmaker. He's made a documentary about it, The Satanic Verses: 30 Years On, and a podcast, Fatwa. We'll also hear from celebrated British novelist and playwright Hanif Kureishi, who is a longtime friend of Rushdie's.