Writer's block: Nobel winner Pamuk boycotts Sri Lanka festival

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Turkish Nobel Literature Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and several other international top authors are boycotting Sri Lanka’s upcoming literary Galle Festival, following an appeal by Reporters Without Borders. “Authors who are going would legitimise Sri Lanka’s poor freedom of expression record,” the group says.

Mr Pamuk had been invited to attend and, as of Friday afternoon, was still listed as a performer on the festival’s official website. “His publisher announced on Friday he wouldn’t go,” according to Ambroise Pierre of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

“This is particularly satisfying for us, as we have always backed Mr Pamuk when he was prosecuted in Turkey for his anti-government opinions. He is a great fighter for freedom of expression so it’s appropriate he decided to turn down the invitation to travel to Sri Lanka.”

International authors
Another top author, Indian-born Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai (and Mr Pamuk’s partner), also decided to cancel her trip. In a press statement, the festival organisers blamed “visa regulations” for preventing Mr Pamuk and Ms Desai from entering Sri Lanka, but according to Reporters Without Borders it was the authors’ own decision not to attend.

The Galle Festival, now in its fifth year, features performances and workshops by Sri Lankan and international authors. The festival website lists a number of international writers who agreed to participate, such as Candace Bushnell (“Sex and the City”), Louis de Bernières (“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”) and Jill Dawson (“Fred & Edie”).

Dutch embassy
The festival website lists the Embassy of the Netherlands as one of its sponsors. The embassy paid for the renovation of the Galle Fort, a heritage site in the south of the island where the festival is held. The website quotes Dutch ambassador Leoni Cuelenare, thanking "the organisers of the festival for selecting Galle with the objective of promoting the rich heritage of this city and Sri Lanka further".

Appeal
Reporters Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, a network of exiled Sri Lankan journalists, issued their appeal on Thursday asking writers and poets not to attend the event, which takes place from 26 to 30 January. The appeal was signed by Noah Chomsky, Ken Loach and Arundathi Roy, among others.

“We want to highlight the poor situation of press freedom and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka,” Mr Pierre told RNW. “This is a great matter of concern for us and for journalists worldwide”.

“It may sound contradictory that an organisation like ours is calling for a boycott, but we feel we have to raise awareness for the situation in Sri Lanka and this is one way to do that.”

Missing or dead
According to Reporters Without Borders, 14 Sri Lankan journalists have been killed since 2006. Three have disappeared, including cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who went missing on 24 January 2009 after writing a column praising the opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.

“We hoped that after the end of the armed conflict with the Tamils in 2009, things would improve, but unfortunately that has not been the case. The war is over, but the freedom for authors, journalists and other artists is still a matter of great concern”.

Mr Pierre also notes that more than thirty journalists have fled Sri Lanka in the past five years.