Press release from the Swedish Academy

24 Mar 2016

In February 1989, Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a death warrant for Salman Rushdie for having violated Islam through blasphemy with his novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie was forced to go underground. Murders and attempted murders of his translators and publishers followed. In the ensuing years, Iranian officials have occasionally referred to the death sentence, sometimes to play down its importance, as when re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom in 1998, sometimes to intensify it, as with the recurrent increases of promised rewards to anyone who would kill Rushdie.

Recently, only weeks after the beginning of a normalisation process between Iran and the Western world, the tone again escalated. Forty state-run media outlets grouped together to increase the bounty by an additional USD 600,000. The death sentence and the reward money are flagrant breaches of international law and rules of civilised interaction within the world community and therefore can in no way be compatible with normalisation.

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 principle of the independence of literature from political control is of fundamental importance for civilisation and must be defended against attacks by avengers and the adherents of censorship.

The Swedish Academy decries the retention of the death sentence for Salman Rushdie and that state-controlled media are permitted to encourage violence directed at a writer.

On behalf of the Swedish Academy
Tomas Riad, Permanent Secretary