The Swedish Academy, which selects Nobel Prize winners in literature, denounced the Iranian government Wednesday for issuing a death warrant in 1989 against British author Salman Rushdie.
In February of that year, Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader, accused Rushdie of blasphemy for what he had written in his novel "The Satanic Verses." Khomeini issued a death warrant for Rushdie, and the author was forced into hiding after several of his translators and publishers were attacked and murdered.
Since Iran first issued the death sentence 27 years ago, the country’s leaders have occasionally raised the reward on Rushdie’s head. In recent weeks, state-run media outlets in Iran announced the decision to raise the bounty by an additional $600,000.
In a statement posted on its website Thursday, the academy, for the first time, officially denounced the death sentence and reward, calling them “flagrant breaches of international law and rules of civilized interaction within the world community.”
“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,” Tomas Riad, the academy’s secretary, wrote in the statement.
1989 death warrant
When Iran first issued the death warrant in 1989, the academy issued a statement defending Rushdie’s right to free speech, but didn't explicitly back the author. The academy referenced its code against getting involved in political issues.
When asked why the academy chose to issue a statement now, Riad told the Associated Press increased diplomatic relations between Iran and western countries in recent months forced the academy to revisit the still-active death warrant.
“The issue came up in the academy and we decided to do it,” he told the AP. “It wasn’t a controversial decision.”
"The Satanic Verses" caused controversy in Muslim communities throughout the world when it was released in 1988 due to its use of themes from the Quran. Countries throughout Africa, Asia and South America banned the book, and it was burned during demonstrations — some of which turned violent — in England and Pakistan.