Washington, DC, March 28, 2006—Egyptian publisher Mohamed Hashem, whose commitment to publishing works of critical thinking has brought him into conflict with civil and religious authorities, has been named by the Association of American Publishers’ International Freedom to Publish (IFTP) Committee to receive this year’s Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award.  It will be presented at the PEN American Center gala on April 18, 2006, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Hashem is the owner and managing director of Merit Publishing House, an independent publishing house he established in Cairo in 1998 together with a group of intellectuals led by the late Ibrahim Mansour.  Hashem has continued to publish works embodying principles of free thought and free expression in the face of threatened censorship and threats to his safety.  Merit Publishing House supports and encourages new writers, publishing many of them for the first time.  In 2006 two of its works received Saweris Grand Prizes for literature.

Born in Tanta in the northern Nile Delta region in 1958, Hashem has worked as a reporter and is the author of a number of novellas and short stories, as well as the novel Open Playgrounds published in 2004.  He is an activist in the Egyptian reformist movement Kefaya (Enough), and was instrumental in founding its affiliated movement Writers and Artists for Change.  In a letter of thanks for the award, Hashem noted that he “never thought that people on the other side of the world would recognize the tiny role that Merit Publishing House is trying to play in both the cultural and the political spheres in Egypt,” adding that “there is no justification for oppression and terrorism by any party, no acceptable excuse for any kind of censorship, either religious or political.”

Hal Fessenden, chairman of the IFTP Committee, said “The International Freedom to Publish Committee is delighted to recognize Mohamed Hashem of Dar Merit for his unwavering commitment to freedom of expression in an environment where such a commitment is hazardous. Mohamed has published books of importance in a repressive economic and political climate. He has consistently resisted government efforts to censor his activities, and as importantly has resisted the pressure to self-censor. We applaud his bravery and determination.”

Created in 2002, the International Freedom to Publish Award recognizes a book publisher outside the United States who has demonstrated courage and fortitude in the face of political persecution and restrictions on freedom of expression. The award is named in honor of Jeri Laber, one of the founding members of the IFTPC and the committee’s professional advisor for more than twenty-seven years. She was a founder of Helsinki Watch (which ultimately became Human Rights Watch), and was its executive director from 1979 to 1995. Her memoir, The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age with the Human Rights Movement, was published in 2002 by Public Affairs Books.  Previous awards have gone to Iranian publisher Farkhondeh Hajizadeh, Indonesian publisher Joesoef Isak, and Kurdish publisher Abdullah Keskin.

The IFTPC was founded in 1975 by the Association of American Publishers.  It was one of the first groups in the world formed specifically to defend and broaden the freedom of the written word and to protect and promote the rights of book publishers and authors around the world.  Among its activities, the committee monitors and publicizes free-expression issues around the world, sends fact-finding missions to countries where free expression is under siege, lobbies both at home and overseas on behalf of persecuted book publishers, and offers moral support and practical assistance to threatened publishers abroad.

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP’s approximately three hundred members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and nonprofit publishers, university presses, and scholarly societies. The defense of intellectual freedom at home and freedom of expression worldwide, the protection of intellectual property rights in all media, and the promotion of reading and literacy are among the association’s primary concerns.

Judith Platt (202) 220-4551 and Deidre Huntington (202) 220-4550