(CNN) –– Author Salman Rushdie, winner of the world’s top literary prizes, was attacked Friday before giving a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, a witness in the audience told CNN. In addition, an AP reporter reported that he saw a man on stage who began “punching or stabbing” the 75-year-old novelist before the event.

The witness could not confirm what the attack was perpetrated with, since he estimates that he was 22 meters from the scene during the incident.

Medical service personnel and police were called to the scene, according to a Chautauqua spokesman who did not provide details or confirm information about the incident.

Salman Rushdie, a longtime author, became known worldwide in the 1980s after his novel “The Satanic Verses” sparked protests across the Muslim world. In 1989, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei of Iran called Rushdie blasphemous and said the play was an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. He also issued a fatwa (religious edict) against the author, calling for his death.

As a result, the writer spent a decade under British protection, before the Iranian government announced that it would no longer seek to enforce the edict in 1998.

The writer, who has long been an advocate for racial justice and free speech, told CNN in April that social unrest in the United States after the death of George Floyd was inevitable.

“I’m a huge supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement,” he noted. “The trigger was the murder of George Floyd. But, the roots are in much older grievances. And frankly, it’s about time people paid attention,” he said at the time.

He also stressed that the key issue is how minorities are sometimes treated in the United States. “The problem is how the state routinely treats Black people and how endangered Black lives continue to be,” she said.

With information from Matt Carey, Mallika Kallinga and Lauren Said-Moorhouse.

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