English PEN and the author Salman Rushdie are calling for the release of South African novelist Zainub Priya Dala, who is in a mental institution in Durban.
At a literary event at a school in March, Dala praised the works of Rushdie. A day later, she was accosted by three men while she was in her car, said English PEN. They placed a knife to her throat and hit her face with a brick. English PEN said Dala believed she would have been stabbed had a minibus taxi not pulled into the vacant lot where the attack took place.
She has since been under pressure from members of Durban's Muslim community to recant and repent for her views about Rushdie, said English PEN, and she is now in a mental institution.
In a series of tweets, Dala explained that she had spoken to a religious leader who advised she be admitted to a mental hospital so she “can reflect on my religion”. The Guardian has reported that Dala is married into a family whose elders are important figures in Durban’s Muslim religious and business community.
Dala said she “reluctantly” went in for admission, but after realising staff had recognised her and she would not be left alone, and after being given “strong meds”, she asked to be discharged. Dala’s doctor is on leave, and she said she cannot be sent home until he returns. She tweeted: “I know this: I need to get home.”
In a message released by English PEN, Dala said: “I've been … drugged till I can barely walk … and basically broken down into a submission where I will follow the straight path (if there is one). I feel that the far-reaching damage to my kids will be severe as they attend schools that are 90% Muslim. And I refuse to educate them with fire and brimstone stories about how they may go to heaven but their beloved grandmother will burn in hellfire. That's what they are teaching the kids now anyway. I have also been harangued to withdraw, dissect, explain and renounce my admiration of [Rushdie’s] works. I could just as easily burn my Oscar Wilde collection because some homophobes came calling. I can't turn back now and pretend I never admired his writing. I would look like a fool.”
Rushdie has been tweeting in support of Dala, saying her imprisonment is “disgusting” and “she should be released immediately”. Neil Gaiman tweeted that it was “monstrous treatment of a writer for admiring @SalmanRushdie”.
English PEN director Jo Glanville said: “The repercussions of her public statement of support for Salman Rushdie should appall anyone who cares about freedom of expression in South Africa. That this assault has been followed by pressure from Dala's own community, leading to her detention in a mental institution, is not treatment that any of us would expect to see in an open society.”