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02 June 2023

Stars pull out of Lanka book fair over rights


Nobel-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk and fellow writer Kiran Desai have pulled out of Sri Lanka's main literary festival, Pamuk's publisher said on Friday, following pressure from press freedom groups.

Reporters Without Borders and a Sri Lankan rights group had targeted foreign writers in a campaign that called on them to boycott the Galle Literary Festival because of restrictions on free speech in Sri Lanka.

The campaign said that attending the event later this month would "give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government's suppression of free speech."

Pamuk and his partner Kiran Desai, a Booker Prize-winning author, are attending the Jaipur Literary Festival in northern India and had planned to travel on to Sri Lanka for the Galle event that starts on January 26.

"They won't be attending the Galle festival," Hemali Sodhi from Pamuk's publisher in India, Penguin, told AFP by telephone. "They won't be commenting on this any further."

Pamuk had declined to take questions from journalists while speaking at an event in Jaipur earlier in the day.

The Galle boycott campaign has been backed by Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Ken Loach, Antony Loewenstein and Tariq Ali.

A total of 17 journalists and media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past decade and many local reporters exercise self-censorship to avoid confrontations with the authorities, according to rights groups.

Sri Lanka, ruled by Mahinda Rajapakse since 2005, remains under a state of emergency, giving police wide powers to detain suspects and allowing the government to crack down on people perceived as dissidents.

Pamuk, author of "Snow" and "The Black Book," became the focus of a campaign backed by Reporters Without Borders for greater freedom in his homeland after becoming a victim of laws that restrict writers' ability to criticise Turkey.

He was prosecuted for telling a Swiss magazine that 30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians had been killed during World War I under the Ottoman Turks, although the case was ultimately dropped on a technicality.