Jaipur Festival: Dalrymple gets death threat as Rushdie speech looms

JAIPUR, India Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:57pm IST

A newspaper vendor walks past an advertisement hoarding outside the venue of the annual Literature Festival in Jaipur January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

A newspaper vendor walks past an advertisement hoarding outside the venue of the annual Literature Festival in Jaipur January 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Altaf Hussain

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JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - The director of Asia's largest literature festival received a death threat hours before Salman Rushdie was set to address the event on Tuesday, though organisers confirmed that the author would still speak using a video link.

The issue of British-Indian author Rushdie, who cancelled his visit to the festival due to assassination threats, has overshadowed the event. Muslim groups protested against his invitation and other authors accused the government of suppressing free speech.

A death threat was received against festival director William Dalrymple ahead of Rushdie's speech, a senior police officer told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Dalrymple declined to comment and no further details of the threat were available.

The Jaipur Literature Festival's invitation to Rushdie, whose 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses" is banned in India, sparked protests from some Muslim groups, who said he had offended their religious sentiments.

Rushdie will speak to the festival at 3.45 p.m. local time (1015 GMT), organisers said, after a receiving the go-ahead from the government of Rajasthan.

"We received information from the Rajasthani government that no permission was required to proceed with this," producer Sanjoy Roy told reporters, adding that the festival would act if any laws were broken during the speech.

"We hope that his conversation will take place peacefully."

Political parties are seen as unwilling to lend their support to the author for fear of offending Muslim voters ahead of an important state election in Uttar Pradesh next month.

A spokesperson for the Chief Minister of Rajasthan told Reuters on Tuesday morning that the government had yet to take a final decision on allowing the speech to proceed.

Five authors have been investigated by police in Jaipur for reading from "The Satanic Verses" at the festival, and English PEN, a writer's body, issued a statement late on Monday in their support.

"We felt that it was important to show support for Salman, who is often misrepresented... This situation has arisen in India at a time when free speech is under attack," wrote Hari Kunzru, one of the authors involved, in the Guardian newspaper.

The five-day festival, which concludes on Tuesday, has attracted over 70,000 visitors and featured best-selling authors such as Richard Dawkins, Tom Stoppard and Michael Ondaatje, and global television superstar Oprah Winfrey.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Elaine Lies)

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