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Pamuk, other writers ‘legitimising S. Lanka suppression’

[AFP, Thursday, 20 January 2011 17:58 No Comment]

Leading media freedom group Reporters Without Borders on Thursday accused Nobel-winning author Orhan Pamuk and other writers of legitimising repression in Sri Lanka by attending a literary festival there.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was "disturbing" that Sri Lanka should celebrate literature while suppressing freedom of expression and attacking independent journalists and writers.

Dozens of foreign writers, including Turkey’s Pamuk — a free speech campaigner once charged with "insulting Turkishness" — are due in Sri Lanka for the festival in the southern town of Galle from January 26.

"RSF finds it highly disturbing that literature is being celebrated in this manner in a land where cartoonists, journalists, writers and dissident voices are so often victimised by the current government," the group said.

"We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government?s suppression of free speech," it told the attending authors.

The RSF launched the campaign with Sri Lanka’s Journalists for Democracy (JDS).

They have been backed by authors Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Ken Loach, Antony Loewenstein and Tariq Ali, according to the rights groups.

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 arch-nationalist Mahinda Rajapakse since 2005, is under a state of emergency which gives police wide powers to detain suspects and allows the government to crack down on people perceived as dissidents.

The legislation was introduced during the country’s three-decade battle with ethnic Tamil separatists and remains in place despite Rajapakse’s forces wiping out the rebels in 2009 in an offensive since dogged by war crimes allegations.

Shyam Selvadurai, a Sri Lankan author and curator of the Galle Literary Festival, said the RSF campaign was unfair.

"I feel the people who are shouting didn’t bother to read the programme properly, then they wouldn’t have protested or signed a petition," he told reporters in Colombo.

"This festival is a voice, a platform for promoting tolerance, peace and reconciliation. It’s appalling that people have misunderstood it."

Pamuk, like other big names in the book world, arrived in the northern Indian city of Jaipur on Thursday ahead of South Asia’s biggest literary festival.

AFP contacted his publisher in India, but was unable to reach him for an immediate comment on the campaign.

The author of "Snow" and "The Black Book," as well as other novels mulling the clash of Muslim and Western culture in Turkey, was seen as a victim of laws in Turkey that restrict writers’ ability to criticise the country.

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.

On January 24, family members and colleagues of Sri Lankan political cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda will mark the first year of his disappearance in Colombo on the eve of presidential elections.

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