A coalition of major publisher and author associations this week commended officials at the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for lifting trade regulations that prohibited American publishers from publishing books and journal articles written by Syrian authors. Under a May, 2014, order, OFAC regulations prohibited American publishers from working with Syrian authors, but after a campaign by publishers, the ban was recently lifted under a general license.

In a January, 2015 letter, attorneys for the publishers claimed that the sanctions violated federal law and the First Amendment, and constituted a “terrible policy decision,” silencing critics of the Assad regime and opponents of ISIS, while depriving Americans of an opportunity to educate itself about Syria. The letter was undertaken by the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishers division (“AAP/PSP”), and PEN American Center. In 2004, PEN filed suit to reverse a similar ban on Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese authors, leading to OFAC revising those regulations and creating a general license permitting publishers to engage in any transactions “necessary and ordinarily incidental to” publishing and marketing written works from restricted regions.

“As the Syrian war drags into its fifth year, cutting off Syrian writers, scholars and scientists from access to the outside world only reinforces their sense of isolation and despair,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center, in a statement. “While these revisions are a step in the right direction, the application of OFAC sanctions to publishing in any form is counterproductive—the arts should be exempt from OFAC sanctions entirely.”