New York, NY, September 27, 2004—In a challenge to regulations governing the publication of informational materials from countries subject to U.S. trade embargoes, PEN American Center today joined the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing division (AAP/PSP), the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), and Arcade Publishing in filing suit against the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

The organizations are asking the court to strike down OFAC regulations that require publishers, writers, and translators to seek a license from the government to perform the routine services necessary to publish foreign literature in the United States. Representatives of the plaintiffs’ organizations expressed frustration over a series of OFAC rulings that have created an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion among publishers fearful of incurring prison sentences of up to 10 years or fines of up to $1,000,000. Those rulings and the regulations they interpret mandate that Americans (1) may not publish work not already published in embargoed countries, (2) may not promote or market the work, and (3) may not provide vaguely defined “artistic or substantive alterations or enhancements” to the works.

The group challenges the regulations on the grounds that they violate both the intention of Congress, articulated in the 1989 Berman Amendment and the 1994 Free Trade in Ideas Act to exempt transactions involving “information and informational materials” from these embargoes, and the First Amendment. PEN, the AAP/PSP, AAUP, and Arcade contend that OFAC’s regulations overreach the office’s statutory authority and endanger U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights.

“The OFAC regulations are arbitrary and counterproductive,” said PEN American Center president Salman Rushdie. “For example, OFAC says publishers are free to publish ‘pre-existing’ texts from these countries. Yet the countries currently under U.S. trade embargo routinely prevent important work by writers and scholars from seeing the light of day. American writers, translators, and publishers are being told that unless they get a license from OFAC, they may not work with their censored colleagues in these countries to bring these works into print.”

A number of pending translations, among them the PEN Anthology of Contemporary Persian Literature and a bilingual book combining the writings and photographs of both Cuban and American writers, are at risk unless the current regulations change. Esther Allen, Chair of PEN’s Translation Committee, said, “publishers are just not willing to expose themselves by printing works by America’s ‘enemies.’ This is a sad contrast to the role they took in promoting voices from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.”

PEN American Center is an organization of over 2,500 prominent novelists, poets, essayists, translators, playwrights, and editors. As part of International PEN, it and its affiliated organizations have defended free and open communication within all nations for more than 80 years. The 2,500 PEN American Center members, all prominent literary writers and editors, are a major voice of the national and international literary community.

 

For information about Shirin Ebadi’s suit against the Treasury Department, please click here.

For press clips related to this lawsuit and the suit of Shirin Ebadi, please click here.

To read PEN President Salman Rushdie’s statement on OFAC, please click here.

For more information, including detailed background and legal documents from the suit, please click here.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, [email protected]