Iranian Independent Publishing Community Gets Fifth Annual Jeri Laber Award
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC, April 23, 2007—Members of the independent publishing community in Iran, facing increased harassment and persecution under the current regime, have been named by the Association of American Publishers’ International Freedom to Publish Committee to receive the 2007 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award.
Since the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, harsh treatment of intellectuals, journalists, publishers, editors, and bloggers has intensified, with many of them imprisoned or driven into exile. So dangerous has it become that the original candidate for the 2007 Jeri Laber Award, a prominent independent book publisher, declined for fear of government reprisal, saying that “The business of publishing books is confronted with very dire and troubling conditions in our country. Independent publishers, including our publishing house, are under immense pressure and censorship. Accepting a prize would certainly double these pressures. I am very sad to say that I no longer have the stamina to bear more pressure or to engage in further confrontations.”
To honor this publisher and the entire beleaguered publishing community for their ongoing commitment to freedom of expression under extreme duress, the 2007 Jeri Laber Award will be given on their behalf to Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi’s Human Rights Defense Center, which has undertaken to defend those persecuted for pursuing freedom of expression.
“Freedom of speech is the first step to democracy,” Ms. Ebadi said in acknowledging the award. “Publishers are the inventors of this first step….Unfortunately, publishers in Iran confront many limitations. On the one hand, they must deal with the hardships imposed by the government, and on the other hand, the limited number of publications and financial difficulties are a burden on their shoulders….My request from the Iranian publishers worldwide is to translate the works of the Iranian poets, writers, and scholars into the global languages and have them published.”
Hal Fessenden (Viking Penguin), Chairman of the International Freedom to Publish Committee, said “We have given the Jeri Laber award over the last five years in repressive countries like Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt – even in Iran in 2003 – but this is the first time the prize has been considered too hazardous to accept. The Committee is nonetheless determined to support freedom of expression in Iran.”
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, Turkish publisher Abdullah Keskin, and Egyptian publisher Mohamed Hashem.
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 300 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.
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105