JK Rowling joins high-profile figures voicing fears for free speech

JK Rowling, Sir Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood are among prominent figures from the arts world who have signed a letter warning of an "intolerant climate" for free speech.

The 150 high-profile signatories say recent protests for racial and social justice are a "needed reckoning" but decried what they describe as the weakening of open debate in favour of "ideological conformity".

The letter, published in Harper's Magazine, comes amid a debate over so-called cancel culture, where public figures face criticism for perceived acts of offence.

It states: "The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.

"While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty."

As well as Harry Potter creator Rowling and The Handmaid's Tale author Atwood, others to put their name to the statement include academics and intellectuals Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem and Garry Kasparov.

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The stars from left to right; Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson with the author J K Rowling arrive for world premiere of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone at the Odeon Leicester Square in London.
Harry Potter author J.K Rowling signs a fans shirt at the Waterstone`s book shop in Edinburgh as she launches her new book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Author, Joanne Kathleen Rowling, 34, (J K Rowling) at Kings Cross Station London at the launch of her new Harry Potter book, 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'. The fourth book, in series of seven which have now combined sold more than 35 million copies. * The Goblet of Fire has achieved advanced sales of two million. 25/11/2000: JK Rowling's latest Harry Potter offering has been pipped to a children's book prize by a re-telling of the classic A Pilgrim's Progress. Geraldine McCaughrean's version of John Bunyan's work scooped the first ever Blue Peter Book Of The Year Award. * 16/02/2001 dated 8/7/00 of Harry Potter author Joanne Kathleen Rowling. Teenage wizard Harry Potter has enchanted library users by sweeping to the top of the lending league for children's books, figures showed Friday February 16, 2001. JK Rowling's best-selling creation took the first three places for kids' books in the annual round-up of reads with Harry Potter and The Philospher's Stone at number one.
Author JK Rowling (2nd right) with director alfonso Cuaron and the stars from left to right, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe at the UK premiere of Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban at the Odeon Leicester Square in Central London, the third film from author JK Rowling's series of books on the boy wizard.
Whitney Stanbra, 6, from Basingstoke poses with a 'Platform 9 and 3/4' sign beside a special WAGN Harry Potter train arrives on Platform 9 at King's Cross station in London before beginning its first ever passenger journey from London King's Cross to Cambridge. * King's Cross station plays a leading role in the film 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' which is released at cinemas across the country.
A special WAGN Harry Potter train arrives on Platform 9 at King's Cross station in London before beginning its first ever passenger journey from London King's Cross to Cambridge. King's Cross station plays a leading role in the film 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. * ... which is released at cinemas across the country.
Actors Robbie Coltrane (rear), and (from left) Rupert Grint Emma Watson and Warwick Davis at Kingscross Station, central London, for the Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone - DVD & video launch party.
Stars from the latest Harry Potter film 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' (from left) Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, during a photocall at the Guildhall, London, to promote the new film.
Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter (left) with the characters creator JK Rowling (centre) and co-star Emma Watson as they arrive for the celebrity film premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the Odeon Leicester Square, London.
The cast, crew and author arrive for the celebrity film premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End.
The stars of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, from left to right; Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson during the worldwide launch of the DVD/VHS at Leavesden Studios in north London.
The cast and crew of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets during the worldwide launch of the DVD/VHS at Leavesden Studios in north London.
Five girls head the queue outside Waterstones in Piccadilly, London for the eagerly awaited fifth installment of Harry Potter. The girls (from left) Suzanna Dickson, Stevie Finegan, Savannah Mazda, Vienna Francis-Mullins and Sinead Miller, * .. all from London, have been waiting for nearly eight hours to ensure they get a copy of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. harrypottergal
The stars, from left to right; Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint pose for photographers during a photocall to promote the new Harry Potter movie 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' at The Gladstone Library in central London.
MTV presenter Dave Berry (left) with Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson during their guest appearance on MTV TRL UK at the MTV Studios's in Camden.
Star of the film Daniel Radcliffe arrives for the UK premiere of Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban at the Odeon Leicester Square in Central London, the third film from author JK Rowling's series of books on the boy wizard.
Emma Watson, J.K Rowling, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe arriving at the premiere of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Leicester Square, London ©Doug Peters/allactiondigital.
Author JK Rowling (centre right) and stars of the film Daniel Radcliffe (left), Rupert Grint and Emma Watson arrive for the UK premiere of Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban at the Odeon Leicester Square in Central London, the third film from author JK Rowling's series of books on the boy wizard.
(From left to right) Rupert Grint (Ron), Emma Watson (Hermione), and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) arrive for the Global DVD & VHS Launch party of Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, at Middle Temple in central London
JK Rowling arrives at Edinburgh Castle for the Launch party for her latest Harry Potter Book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Jennifer Ellison, Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore during a visit to hand out copies of the new Harry Potter book, which was released at midnight.
Fans brave the rain outside the Odeon cinema in London's Leicester Square in anticipation of the arrivals for the world premiere of the new film 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire', Sunday November 6, 2005. See PA story SHOWBIZ Potter. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA.
The Harry Potter films win the Empire Outstanding Contribution Award at the Sony Ericsson Empire Film Awards 2006, from the Hilton London Metropole, central London, Monday 13 March 2006. See PA story SHOWBIZ Empire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA
The cast of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, (left to right) Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Daniel Radcliffe, on the Thames Terrace of County Hall in south London, ahead of the European premiere of the film next week.
Emma Watson arrives for the UK Premiere of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix at the Odeon Leicester Square, central London.
Emma Watson arriving at the European Premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, London.
JK Rowling at the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at The Natural History Museum in London
The cast of Harry Potter receive the award for Best Family Film for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix during The National Movie Awards at the Royal Festival Hall, central London.
(from left to right) Tom Felton, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, Bonnie Wright and Jessie Cave are seen at a photocall to launch the new film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, at Claridges Hotel in central London.
Rupert Grint (left), Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe (right) arriving for the world premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the Odeon Leicester Square, London.
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe arrive for the world premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the Odeon Leicester Square, London.
(left to right) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, JK Rowling and Rupert Grint arriving for the World Premiere of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows : Part One, at the Odeon West End, Leicester Square, London.
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Rowling has attracted stern criticism recently for her comments on biological sex, though she strongly denies being transphobic.

And Atwood, a two-time winner of the Booker Prize, has placed herself on the opposite side of the debate, telling fans to "Rejoice in Nature's infinite variety!"

The letter in Harper's Magazine criticised the current state of public debate and the "swift and severe retribution" dealt out to any perceived wrongs.

It said: "We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.

"More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms."

It adds: "Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.

"We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement."

The letter quickly sparked debate online. A social media user suggested the signatories were responding to a loss of "relevance" while others said it was a coded attack on trans rights activists.

Emily VanDerWerff, a trans woman, is a critic for the news website Vox. She said seeing the name of Vox co-founder Matt Yglesias on the letter made her feel "less safe" at work.

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