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Wiesenthal Centre to Arab World Institute of Paris and French Ambassador to UNESCO : "Restore Prize Cancelled due to Hamas Pressure"

"To mitigate intellectual terrorism against Algerian laureate for visiting Israel, France should compensate by submitting his candidacy for UNESCO award"

Paris 4 July, 2012

In a letter to the President of the Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe - IMA), Renaud Muselier, the Simon Wiesenrthal Centre's Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, expressed astonishment that "the 2012 Prize for the Arab Novel, which was to be awarded in a 6 June ceremony at the Institut du Monde Arab (IMA) to the celebrated Algerian writer, Boualem Sansal, was cancelled. This was, reportedly, due to Hamas pressure after he honoured an invitation to the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem."

The letter continued, "We understand, from its website, that the Arab Novel Prize was founded in 2008 'under the patronage of the Arab Ambassadors Council (AAC) in partnership with the IMA'. The AAC , an emanation of the Arab League - which revoked Sansal's Prize of €15,000 - is, in turn, directly linked to the IMA."

Samuels added, "Your website presents the IMA as 'a French Foundation of public utility in partnership with the 22 member-states of the Arab League...since 1996, under the financial control of the French State'."

The Centre pointed out, "The writer, diplomat and Director of France Cultures, Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, has announced his resignation from the Prize Jury stating that 'Boualem's 'Rue Darwin', published by Gallimard, best represents the aim of the Prize i.e.; 'to reward a work of high literary value by a writer of Arabic origin, whose novel was written or translated into French'."

Poivre d'Arvor stressed, 'I resign as this jury has been shamefully singled out in having its decision reversed. I invite other members to do the same and to create a new distinction to honour the work of Boualem Sansal, Algerian writer, a free man passionate for dialogue'.

Sansal responded to the claim that he had been stripped of his Prize, accused of betraying Palestine by visiting Israel, declaring, "The Arab countries...have shut themselves in a prison of intolerance." In an open letter to his Arab, Palestinian and Israeli friends, he exemplifies what was the hope of the Arab Spring which should further validate his candidacy for the IMA/ACC Prize."

The Centre argued, "According to fundamental values of French justice, Mr. Sansal may be the victim of discrimination, abuse of his freedom of expression and the tarnishing of his good name. As a result, his reputation, career and security may well have been jeopardized."

"As a French-registered and funded foundation, we feel that IMA should restore the €15,000 prize to Mr Sansal, together with appropriate damages for his discomfiture."

Samuels suggested that "compensation would surely be consonant with the sentiments of Franco-Arab cooperation invoked in the late President François Mitterrand's speech at the IMA's inauguration on 30 November 1987 : '-We should express the gratitude of France and ask you, through the Arab World Institute to try to better understand France, as we are charged - what a beautiful charge - to serve and to promote friendship, love and respect for all peoples!'."

A second letter was sent to Daniel Rondeau, French Ambassador to UNESCO, stressing that "we were similarly disconcerted, when the 2006 UNESCO literary laureate, Magdy El Shafee, was jailed in Cairo in 2009 for his celebrated cartoon novel, Metro. Though his work was banned, his UNESCO decoration enhanced his status throughout his trial."

The Centre called on Rondeau "As the representative of France - the cradle of the Rights of Man - to UNESCO, the guardian of freedom of expression, to publicly condemn the politicization of culture resonating in the Sansal affair."

"We also urge you to present the candidacy of Mr.Sansal for one of UNESCO's prestigious awards and, thereby, mitigate the intellectual terrorism to which he has been subjected," concluded Samuels.

For further information contact Dr. Shimon Samuels on 0033(0)609770158, join the Center on Facebook, www.facebook.com/simonwiesenthalcenter, or follow @simonwiesenthal for news updates sent direct to your Twitter page or mobile device.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).