The Swedish Academy, which selects the winners of the Nobel Prize in literature, has condemned an Iranian death warrant against British writer Salman Rushdie, 27 years after it was pronounced.
Two members quit the academy in 1989 after it refused to condemn Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini’s fatwa, or religious edict, against Rushdie for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his book “The Satanic Verses.” Citing its code against political involvement, the academy issued a statement defending free expression but without explicitly supporting Rushdie.
However, in a statement posted on its website Thursday, the academy for the first time denounced the fatwa and reward money for Rushdie’s death as “flagrant breaches of international law.”
It didn’t specify what prompted its change of heart, but cited state-run Iranian media outlets’ recent decision to raise the bounty by $600,000.
“The fact that the death sentence has been passed as punishment for a work of literature also implies a serious violation of free speech,” the academy said, adding that literature must be free from political control.
Rushdie responded on Twitter, saying “I would like to thank the Swedish Academy. I am extremely grateful for its statement.”
I would like to thank the Swedish Academy. I am extremely grateful for its statement. https://t.co/p06lTJSJ5x— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) 24 March 2016
Asked what prompted the academy to revisit the issue, acting secretary Tomas Riad referred to the normalization process between Iran and the West and the increase of the bounty.
“The issue came up in the academy and we decided to do it (issue a statement),” Riad said. “It wasn’t a controversial decision.”
He called Rushdie, 68, a “symbol of the freedom of expression, albeit an involuntary one.”
The death decree forced Rushdie into hiding for years. India, Pakistan, Iran and several other countries banned “The Satanic Verses.” Later, Iran severed diplomatic ties with Britain, accusing the British government of supporting Rushdie.
Besides “Satanic Verses,” Rushdie’s novels include “The Moor’s Last Sigh” and “Midnight’s Children,” a Booker Prize winner and one of the most highly praised books of the past quarter century.
Kerstin Ekman, one of the members who resigned from the academy in 1989, welcomed the move.
“It took a few years but here it is. I think it is very good,” Ekman told Swedish public radio. She said she doesn’t plan to return to the academy, whose appointments are for life.