New York City, September 17, 2012—PEN American Center today denounced renewed threats against the life of author and former PEN American Center president Salman Rushdie, calling the announcement by Iranian cleric Ayatollah Hassan Sane’i that his 15 Khordad Foundation was raising the reward for Rushdie’s killing “an attention grab of the most cynical and contemptible kind.”

“We condemn the transparent attempt by Ayatollah Sane’i to exploit the turmoil over a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed—a movie Salman Rushdie had nothing to do with—in order to churn up some publicity for himself and his foundation,” said Peter Godwin, president of PEN American Center. “We wish to publicly reaffirm our steadfast support for Salman Rushdie and his right to literary freedom of expression, and we absolutely reject the introduction of violence and threats of violence into debates over a right that is inherent to all and universally guaranteed.”

Rushdie, who was president of PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006 and has since served as Chair of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, has been living under death threats since his novel The Satanic Verses was published in 1988. Although the government of Iran announced in 1998 that it was no longer seeking to carry out Ayatollah Khomeini’s original fatwa against the author, the 15 Khordad Foundation has maintained a reward for Rushdie’s killing, periodically increasing the bounty. Sane’i’s statement that he was raising the reward from $2.8 million to $3.3 million came four days after American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed in Libya amid protests over Internet trailers for a low-budget movie ridiculing Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

“Since the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues last week it has been heartening to see the world speaking so clearly for the principle that no expression, no matter how offensive, can be cited as a justification for violence,” said Larry Siems, director of PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write and International Programs. “At the same time, it has been discouraging to see that there remain those who seem willing to subvert that principle for personal advantage, at the expense of real attempts at meaningful communication. They should be rejected not only for the sake of freedom of expression, but for the sake of promoting real respect and mutual understanding.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 144 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession.

For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (646) 359-0594