Writer pulls out of Galle Lit Fest due to human rights issues

When we released this statement over Sri Lanka recently, I would never have imagined its global impact.

What does it show? That a strongly-worded statement can have an effect and raise uncomfortable and necessary questions for an event that is far too keen to avoid the realities in dictatorship Sri Lanka.

The latest:

South African award-winning novelist and playwright Damon Galgut has boycotted a literary festival in Sri Lanka because of concerns over the country’s rights record, organisers said Thursday.

Galgut, a winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2003 for “The Good Doctor”, set in post-apartheid South Africa, declined to take part in the Galle Literary Festival despite arriving in Sri Lanka this week, organisers said.

“We are sorry to announce that Damon Galgut has decided to lend his support to the ongoing international campaign by rights activists to highlight shortfalls in human rights here,” Shyam Selvadurai, the festival curator said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation for us that Damon heeded this ridiculous campaign,” Selvadurai told reporters. “But the festival will go on, with over 60 writers participating.”

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a Sri Lankan right group last week asked foreign writers to boycott the five-day Galle festival because of alleged rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

Galgut, whose latest novel, “In a Strange Room,” is shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, was not immediately available for comment.

RSF said Wednesday that “hundreds” of Internet users had signed a boycott petition led by Noam Chomsky, Arundathi Roy, Ken Loach, Antony Loewenstein, Tariq Ali, Dave Rampton and R Cheran.

Nobel laureate Turkish-born Orhan Pamuk and his partner, fellow writer Kiran Desai, last week pulled out of the festival.

Pamuk’s agent in India declined to give a reason while festival organisers said their absence was unrelated to the RSF campaign.

Pamuk, author of “Snow” and “The Black Book,” attended the Jaipur Literary Festival in India last week.

Despite the international campaign, hundreds of local and foreign book lovers flocked to the festival that is held inside a colonial-era sea-front fort in Galle, 72 miles (115 kilometres) south of Colombo.