After 27 years, Nobel panel condemns Rushdie death threats

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, the academy for the first time denounced the fatwa

Photograph by Geoffrey Knott

Photograph by Geoffrey Knott

STOCKHOLM — 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 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.

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.”

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.