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Post-Rushdie, Iran welcome back at book fair

FRANKFURT, Oct 12 (Reuters) - With the death threats against British author Salman Rushdie now easing, the world's biggest book fair on Tuesday welcomed back Iranian publishers for the first time in 10 years.

The move was a morale booster for Iranian editors, but some were still clearly angry it had taken so long for Tehran to be accepted back into the international publishing fold.

"I don't know why publishers in Germany punished Iranian people," leading women's publisher Shahla Lahiji told Reuters as she set up her stand at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. "I never had the answer to this important question.

We are people not governments," she added. Fellow publisher Hassan Kiyaaian agreed: "Literature is for everyone all around the world and we are part of that world."


The decision to let Iran back into the fair was announced by its director Peter Weidhaas.

"Iranian publishing companies are exhibiting again in Frankfurt for the first time in 10 years," he told a news conference before the opening of the fair that has attracted 6,600 publishers from a record 113 countries.

"We had excluded Iran because the Iranian government officially supported the fatwa which threatened the writer Salman Rushdie with death," he said.

"It was time to reconsider that decision when the Iranian president distanced himself from the fatwa last autumn.

"We observed very closely the without doubt highly contradictory process of liberalisation within his country and in the end came to the conclusion that precisely the open forum of the Book Fair would be an important arena for new and independent voices from Iran."

In a deal to normalise diplomatic relations with Britain last year, the Iranian government disavowed the fatwa issued against Rushdie in 1989 by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran's revolutionary leader, for blaspheming against Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."


But hardline conservatives in Iran have said the death edict against Rushdie remains in place even if no longer supported by the Tehran government.

Shala Lahiji, director of the Roshangaran and Women's Studies publishing house, felt Frankfurt was an important first step for her publishing industry, especially for women writers.

"Our culture goes back many centuries. It is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. The Salman Rushdie issue is political. It does not concern me. I am a messenger for culture and not politics," she said.

Iranian dissident writer Faraj Sarkuhi, offered a German grant last year to live and work in Frankfurt, will be appearing at a panel discussion at the Fair on Saturday.


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