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Rushdie receives Freedom to Publish Awards

Salman Rushdie won the second Freedom to Publish award at the British Book Awards, organised by The Bookseller and given on Monday night (15 May) in London.  His award was announced by the novelist Monica Ali.  In a pre-recorded address Rushdie warned of the growing threats to freedom of expression and pointed out that many of these were coming from the West.

“We live in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West.  Obviously, there are parts of the world where censorship has been prevalent for a long-time, quite a lot of the world – Russia, China, in some ways India as well. But in the countries of the West, until recently, there was a fair measure of freedom in the area of publishing. Now I am sitting here in the US, I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries, and books for children in schools. The attack on the idea of libraries themselves. It is quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and to fight against it very hard.”

Ali said: “In the 34 years since the issuing of the fatwah, [Rushdie] has been a tireless champion of artistic and journalistic freedom. As a former President of PEN America, as an advocate at the United Nations, he has been unceasing in his efforts on behalf of writers working under repressive governments, in China or Russia – or any place that the censor seeks a chokehold on free speech […] Nobody has been more courageous, more steadfast, more brilliant, in the pursuit of truth and artistic freedom.”

Philip Jones, chair of the British Book Awards judges and editor of The Bookseller, said: “There can scarcely be a more important winner of this prize at a more important moment. Freedom to Publish is about the right to read, write, speak and hear without interference, and without the dire consequences so often now threatened by those who would restrict, censor and circumscribe. More than most, Rushdie has lived his defiance and continues to pay a huge price for it. His cause belongs to all of us, and The British Book Awards is delighted to honour him for it.”

The award comes after the author of The Satanic Verses (Vintage) was attacked on stage at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state in August 2022.

Index on Censorship said: “Salman Rushdie is the living embodiment of the values we have championed for 50 years.  We can only aspire to his intellectual curiosity, his generosity towards other writers and the level of courage he has always shown in facing down the enemies of free expression. Last year’s attempt on the life of Salman Rushdie was designed to silence one of the most important voices of our times. His survival is a tribute to his courage and determination.”

The Freedom to Publish award was first introduced in 2022 and was awarded to HarperCollins and publishing director Arabella Pike in recognition of their “fortitude and bravery” in defending its authors against interference from Russian oligarchs, and for their “robust defence of investigative non-fiction and publishing in the public interest”.

The British Book Awards also saw Simon & Schuster named Publisher of the Year for the second year running.