World writers decry censorship at Swedish literary meet

World writers decry censorship at Swedish literary meet
Bangladeshi novelist-in-hiding Taslima Nasreen joined international writers gathered at a literary conference in Stockholm on Tuesday to deplore how censorship and persecution affect their work.

“By writing books, I wanted to do something constructive … as a result, the fundamentalists … demanded my execution by hanging,” Nasreen said in an address at the Writers’ and Literary Translators’ International Congress (WALTIC) in the Swedish capital.

“The government instead of taking action against them (the extremists) took action against me … I was thrown out of my country by the government,” added the Bangladeshi author who has been banished from both her country of origin and her adopted home in India over her Islam-critical books.

The 45-year-old gynaecologist-turned-author was recently granted a two-year safe haven in the Swedish town of Uppsala, 70 kilometres from Stockholm, after living under Indian government protection in Kolkata due to threats by Islamic militants.

Nasreen, who has written some 30 books of poetry, essays, novels and short stories that often criticize the oppression of women in the name of religion and tradition, fled Bangladesh in 1994 after Islamist radicals accused her of blasphemy.

She has been subjected to several fatwas, repeatedly been denied the right to return to Bangladesh and has had a number of her books banned both in Bangladesh and abroad.

“I am homeless,” she lamented on Tuesday. “But I have a home … The hearts of people who believe in human rights is my home.”

Turkmen writer Yusuf Azemoun, living in exile in Cyprus, meanwhile told the conference his country of origin was “one of the world’s most repressive regimes.”

Although Turkmen authorities have recently loosened their grip by for instance allowing people to access the Internet regardless of their profession, the authoritarian state continues to strictly control all media and to block politically sensitive Internet sites.

“Woe be any writer who … slightly challenges the rules set by the regime,” Azemoun said, pointing out how difficult it was for literary creativity to bloom when the regime strictly censored every word that is written.

“When you can’t communicate, you can’t do much,” he said, adding on a more hopeful note that “no matter how ruthless the dictator might be they cannot obstruct the freedom of speech forever.”