Nobel Prize-awarding Swedish Academy stunned by mass defection

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Three members of the Swedish Academy, the body that selects the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, have withdrawn from its board in protest over the handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by a man married to another member.

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Academy members and authors Peter Englund, Klas Ostergren and Kjell Espmark all said separately they would no longer participate in its work. Since seats are for life it, is not technically possible to resign.

The Swedish Academy in November severed ties with a man whom it had helped financially in running a cultural club in Stockholm after allegations of sexual misconduct on his part.

At a time of global concern over the treatment of women spearheaded by the #MeToo movement, state prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the incidents, but later dropped parts of it without charges being laid.

Lawyer Bjorn Hurtig, who represents the man, told Reuters his client denied all allegations.

The Swedish Academy has yet to make public the results of its own internal investigation. But Englund said in a blog on Friday that a rift had grown in the body over the probe and the measures taken by the Academy’s permanent secretary in the case.

He said that its assessments showed “too much regard for the individual, and too little for the statutes”.

“Decisions have been taken that I neither believe in nor can defend, and I have therefore decided to no longer participate in the work of the Swedish Academy,” he said.

Espmark told Reuters he backed Englund’s opinions on the matter. Ostergren did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment but said in a letter to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet he believed the Academy was failing to live up to its own code.

The manager of the Swedish Academy’s office said that only Sara Danius, the permanent secretary, could comment on the case. Danius did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment but an auto-reply said she was currently on leave.

But in comments to daily Svenska Dagbladet, she said the Academy had decided to look into whether it could be made possible for members to formally resign while also saying she was saddened be the exit of her colleagues.

“It is very sad. But I understand their reasoning,” she was quoted as saying.

Reporting by Niklas Pollard, Johan Sennero, Olof Swahnberg; Editing by Angus MacSwan