The prize was established in 2009 by the campaigning group English PEN in memory of the playwright Harold Pinter. It is given annually to a writer who, in the words of Pinter’s speech on receiving the Nobel prize, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze on the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and societies”.
Rushdie will be presented with the award at the British Library on 9 October.
In a statement, Rushdie said both PEN and Pinter had been active in his defence when he needed it. “It’s very moving to receive an award named after my friend Harold Pinter, whose literary genius was matched by his passion for social justice.”
Rushdie was chosen by judges Antonia Fraser, Kamila Shamsie and the Guardian’s Michael Billington and Simon Jenkins.
The panel was chaired by the writer Maureen Freely, who said: “This prize is English PEN’s way of thanking Salman Rushdie not just for his books and his many years of speaking out for freedom of expression, but also for his countless private acts of kindness. When he sees writers unjustly vilified, prosecuted or forced into exile, he takes a personal interest.”