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Galle literary fest runs into controversy

world Updated: Jan 21, 2011 03:09 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Eminent authors and commentators including Noam Chomsky, Arundhuti Roy and Tariq Ali have appealed to the invitees at the upcoming Galle Literary Festival not to attend the event as that would be endorsing a regime with a poor human rights record.

Reporters without Borders, a journalist rights watchdog, said on Thursday that as many as 46 eminent personalities had endorsed their appeal to boycott the festival to be held next week in a country where freedom of expression was severely impaired.

Their appeal was seconded by Journalists for Democracy (JDS) formed a by a group of journalists on exile from Sri Lanka.

They said that in a country while journalists have been killed or have disappeared, writing and the arts should not be celebrated.

``At the same time, writers from Asia and all over the world are planning to gather in the southern city of Galle for a literary festival co-sponsored by the country’s leading tourism promotion agencies Reporters without Borders and JDS find it highly disturbing that literature is being celebrated in this manner in a land where cartoonists, journalists, writers and dissident voices are so often victimized by the current government. The signatories of this appeal ask them to consider this grave situation before deciding to go to the Galle Festival,’’ their statement said.

``Fourteen journalists have been killed since 2006, three have disappeared, and more than 30 have fled the country. Journalists, writers and performers remaining in the country are constantly threatened, physically attacked or cowed by legislation under which they can be jailed them for up to 20 years simply for what they write,’’ it said, adding ``It is this environment that you will be legitimizing by your presence.’’

The festival organisers however dismissed the appeal as ``appalling.’’ Author and festival curator, Shyam Selvadurai told reporters that the festival was the ``voice of plurality, tolerance and multiculturalism. It is not a carnival for the rich. This festival is for a tolerant and civil society,’’ Selvadurai said.