The only independent publishing house in Vietnam has won the Prix Voltaire for taking grave risks to secure freedom of expression and publication. On June 3, the International Publishers Association (IPA) based in Switzerland officially awarded the 2020 Prix Voltaire, which is unique in honoring the freedom of publication, to Vietnam’s Nha Xuat Ban Tu Do (Liberal Publishing House). The IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee believed that the Prix Voltaire laureate “stood out as a publishing house which is dedicated to the cause of freedom to publish.” Its staff and workers have put themselves at great risk in order to enable others to exercise their right to freedom of expression. Committee chair Kristenn Einarsson said Liberal Publishing House’s work “as guerrilla publishers, making books available in a climate of intimidation and risk for their own personal safety, is nothing short of inspirational.” “The international publishing community recognizes their bravery and will support them however we can,” Einarsson said.
The IPA said the winner of the US$10,400 prize was chosen from four remarkable shortlisted candidates, all brave publishers pushing for the freedom of publication. The others were from Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan. In a recorded video sent to the IPA, the publisher’s spokesperson Pham Doan Trang said freedom of expression is an indisputable, universal right and an indispensable element that enhances a society economically, intellectually and morally. However, freedom of expression and academic freedom have yet to be achieved in Vietnam. Trang, an author and journalist, said all people who work for the publisher, which operates secretly due to the government’s crackdown on what they consider “anti-state” activities, daily risk their safety, their freedom and even their lives just to publish books. “Fighting for freedom is one of the most meaningful things we can do as citizens. We will continue publishing our books as long as there are writers who are committed to writing, who dare and wish to express themselves freely and there are readers who wish for, who long for uncensored information and true wisdom. We are determined in our mission to disseminate free information and liberal knowledge,” she said. “The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, who have been arrested and interrogated simply for reading our books.” A Catholic publishing source said freedom of expression and publication is a deep concern for the local Church, which has not had an independent publisher since 1975 when Vietnam was reunified under communist rule. The communist government bans private publication and press. The expert, who asked not to be named, said the state-run Religious Publishing House censors and produces all publications of local religions. Those writings and books that contain true information considered sensitive to the government are rewritten, removed or not published. “The censorship prevents readers from approaching real historic truths or distorts the truths,” he said. The IPA said Liberal Publishing House’s primary activities include selecting, designing, editing and publishing books free of government censorship, printing and distributing them through either sale or complimentary public giveaways. The non-profit organization, founded in February 2019 by a group of dissidents as a direct challenge to the Vietnamese government’s control of the publishing industry, owns two print shops, with each producing about 100 books a day. It has distributed more than 25,000 copies of 18 titles to readers inside and outside Vietnam.
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