Sir Salman Rushdie has accused his publisher of censorship at the same time as trying to prevent the release of a book that criticises him. The novelist, who spent nearly a decade under a fatwa from the Iranian government after the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, attacked Random House for pulping a historical novel about the Prophet Mohamed for fear of offending Muslims.
Sherry Jones's debut novel, The Jewel Of Medina, about the Prophet Mohamed and his child bride, was due for release this month. But Random House said "credible and unrelated sources" had warned that the book "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment". Rushdie's very public intervention comes at a time when he is engaged in a legal battle to amend the content of a book that criticised him.
On Her Majesty's Service by Ron Evans, who was part of Rushdie's police protection team, makes claims – all of which are denied by the author – that he was imprisoned by guards who "got so fed up with his attitude that they locked him in a cupboard under the stairs and all went to the local pub for a pint or two. When they were suitably refreshed, they came back and let him out."
Evans, who contends that police nicknamed Sir Salman "Scruffy" because of his unkempt appearance, makes several other allegations. They include claims he charged officers for bottles of red wine they drank in his home. When guards stayed overnight, Evans alleges, Sir Salman billed the Metropolitan Police for rent "of at least £40 a night for Special Branch officers to risk their lives to stop him being taken out by followers of the fatwa. We were paying or, rather, the taxpayer was paying Rushdie to protect him."
Rushdie denied there was any contradiction in his actions, saying: "[Sherry Jones's book] is a work of fiction. Ron Evans's book is not, and it contains a very large number of provable lies and complete absurdities which were defamatory not just about me but my son's mother, Elizabeth West, the Metropolitan Police and people including John Major and Norman Tebbit.
"I am interested in the truth. Ron Evans is entitled to whatever opinions he holds, but it is unacceptable that he should publish damaging untruths. This book is about taking revenge on people who do not hold him in very high regard. "Rushie's own writing led to the biggest battle over free speech in modern literary history. The Satanic Verses, which re-told a legend about Mohamed being tricked by agents of the Devil, led to book-burning in Britain. The work's Italian translator was stabbed and his Japanese counterpart murdered. The book was also banned throughout India. Earlier this week, Sir Salman said he was "disappointed" that Random House had pulped Jones's novel amid concerns about reprisals by Islamists. He added: "This is censorship by fear and it sets a very bad precedent indeed."
Random House said it stood by its decision. Under pressure from Sir Salman's lawyer, Mr Evans is believed to have amended his most contentious chapters.