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PEN President Argues Against Denunciations in Rushdie Affair

May 8, 1989

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (AP) _ Members of the PEN international writers’ association should avoid further criticisms of Iran’s death threats against British author Salman Rushdie, the group’s president said today.

″The best thing would be to let the matter die down,″ said PEN’s president, Francis King, said at a PEN conference in the southern Netherlands.

PEN - or Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists - has 10,000 members worldwide. Several local chapters have vehemently criticized the death threats Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made against Rushdie in February. Many Moslems consider Rushdie’s novel, ″The Satanic Verses,″ blasphemous.

King said Rushdie’s literary agent, Gillon Aitken, told the PEN leadership the author thought letting the matter drop would best serve his interests.

On Wednesday, PEN’s 53rd International Conference will vote on two separate Rushdie resolutions. But both statements speak only in defense of free speech and neither contains a condemnation of Iran’s role in the episode, according to PEN’s international secretary, Alexandre Blokh.

The conference also is expected to admit a new Soviet chapter on Wednesday in a move that would open the international writers’ group to artists from the Soviet Union for the first time in 65 years.

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