Author Salman Rushdie signs autographs at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joked Monday that “The Satanic Verses” novelist Salman Rushdie’s location should not be publicized “for his own safety.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the Iranian leader obliquely addressed the wave of protests in Egypt, Libya, Pakistan and other countries over a crude YouTube video that mocks the prophet Muhammad.

“Insulting divine figures would not be deemed as a crime? Of course it would be,” Ahmadinejad told a group of American editors and reporters. “Of course, the punishments for various crimes should differ based on the nature of the crimes committed.”

Last week, a powerful Iranian cleric said the video would not have been made if an Iranian religious edict to kill Rushdie had been carried out. Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, who runs a state charity, pledged to add $500,000 to the bounty on Rushdie.

When Ahmadinejad was asked whether he considers Rushdie still under a death sentence, he grinned and replied: “Where is he now? Where is he, there is no news of him?”

Adopting a joking tone, he continued: “Is he here in the United States? You shouldn’t broadcast that. If he is in the United States, you shouldn’t broadcast it for his own safety.”

Rushdie was placed under an Iranian death threat in 1989 after Muslim clerics called his novel blasphemous. Rushdie lived in hiding until the death threat was rescinded 10 years later. Since then, others have continued to call for Rushdie’s death. He has a new book about his ordeal and has been giving interviews.

The Western claim that even crude messages such as the anti-Muslim video are protected as free speech reveals a double standard, Ahmadinejad said.

Apparently referring to Germany’s law prohibiting public denial of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said the same people who condone insults against Islam make it a crime to “embark on historical research.”