Saudi Arabia protests over Czech 'Satanic Verses' 27 years after uproar

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia summoned the Czech ambassador to protest against a new translation of Salman Rushdie’s book “Satanic Verses”, Saudi state media said on Friday, 27 years after the novel triggered mass demonstrations and a death threat against the author.

Author Salman Rushdie gestures during a news conference before the presentation of his latest book 'Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights' at the Niemeyer Center in Aviles, northern Spain, October 7, 2015. REUTERS/Eloy Alonso

The kingdom told the ambassador the book insulted both Islam and Muslims and asked him to try and halt its publication, the SPA agency added, citing a source in the Saudi foreign ministry.

Prague-based literary publisher Paseka told Reuters it had not heard of any complaint, and its 5,000-strong print run of the book, released in April, had already almost sold out.

Company director Filip Mikes said it had now published 11 of Rushdie’s titles. “We have been and will continue to publish (Rushdie),” he added. The book’s translator used a pseudonym.

The Czech foreign ministry said the book had come up in a meeting with Saudi authorities, and its ambassador had explained the publication was allowed under Czech law.

Rushdie’s novel, first published in Britain in 1988, caused outrage among Muslims who deemed it blasphemous.

The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme religious leader, pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, a year later that called on Muslims to kill the British author.

That forced the writer to live in hiding for nine years. The book’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991 and other people involved in publishing it worldwide have been attacked.

Rushdie’s award-winning fourth novel - described as “comical and philosophical” on Paseka’s website - has continued to provoke sporadic protests since the initial uproar.

Iran has threatened to boycott next week’s Frankfurt book fair because Rushdie was giving the opening address, a spokeswoman for the world’s largest literary trade event said on Friday.

Rushdie’s agent did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The first Czech version of The Satanic Verses was published in 1994.

Reporting By Maha El Dahan; Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Franfurt and Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Andrew Heavens