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Nobel organization decides to condemn the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, 27 years later

Author Salman Rushdie attends a January 2013 promotional event for “Midnight’s Children” in Mumbai. (Rajanish Kakade/AP)

The Swedish Academy, the organization that awards the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature every year, has condemned an Iranian fatwa, or religious edict, calling for the death of British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. The death warrant for the author was originally issued 27 years ago by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Authorities in the Islamic Republic were enraged by Rushdie's then-new novel, "Satanic Verses," which reinterpreted the founding stories of Islam; it was deemed "blasphemous" by Khomeini and other Muslim leaders. The book was banned even in supposedly secular India, the land of Rushdie's birth.

The fatwa caused an international outcry and led Britain to sever ties with Iran for almost a decade. While numerous high-profile writers and politicians were rallying around Rushdie, the Swedish Academy demurred from issuing a statement condemning the fatwa out of a desire to avoid political involvement. Two members of the academy quit in protest.

Thursday's move followed reports last month in Iran of 40 state-run media outlets raising an additional $600,000 in funds to add onto the existing bounty on Rushdie's head, placed by the original fatwa.

This appears to have finally moved the academy, as it suggested in its statement Thursday:

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.

Rushdie had to spend over a decade in hiding out of fear of assassination by Muslim extremists.

"To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self-respect. To be told to hide was a humiliation," Rushdie wrote in his 2012 memoir, "Joseph Anton," which was voiced in the third person. "Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death."

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