Editors: Meeting starts 9:30 a.m. EDT Committee asks for lifting of Rushdie death sentence


LONDON -- An international committee campaigning on behalf of novelist Salman Rushdie said it planned Wednesday to ask governments worldwide to pressure Iran to lift its 5-month-old death sentence against the author.

The appeal, marking Rushdie's 22nd week in hiding under police protection, is to be made by The International Committee for the Defense of Salman Rushdie and His Publishers, a spokeswoman for the London-based group said Tuesday.


'In the light of recent developments, we are stepping up the campaign on behalf of Mr. Rushdie, and every day we are getting more and more support from writers and intellectuals around the world,' the spokeswoman said.

She declined, however, to say what recent developments had prompted a meeting of the committee, which is to be addressed by playwright Harold Pinter and other literary figures.

The bespectacled, Cambridge-educated Rushdie, 42, was condemned to death Feb. 14 by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini because Rushdie's latest novel, 'The Satanic Verses,' is considered blasphemous by Moslems. Khomeini has since died.

The spokeswoman said the committee received 11,000 signatures from writers and readers in 67 countries who had 'joined us against what we consider armed censorship.'

'The International Committee calls on all who support the freedom of expression to insist that governments everywhere maintain diplomatic pressure of the most intense kind on the Iranian authorities,' the spokeswoman said.


'They alone can act to end the intolerable situation that this writer endures, and will act only if the strength of world opinion continues to confront them,' she said.

The spokeswoman said Rushdie, a British citizen, was in good health despite the stress he has been under. He has been in hiding since the death decree.

The committee, after Khomeini's death threat, said it also was concerned at recent attacks on bookshops in Britain believed to stock his novel, and by an expected court ruling to decide whether Rushdie and his publishers, Penguin Viking, could be prosecuted for blasphemy.

A letter from Soviet writer Vladimir Dashunin said: 'I believe it to be barbaric and not worthy of any civilized man to persecute anybody for his opinions, especially when the cause concerns human life.

'Any consequences of this persecution are painful -- I know it by my own experience. I wish you success and hope that common sense and humanity will be stronger than fanaticism,' Dashunin wrote.

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