The only independent publishing house in Vietnam has been chosen as one of four Asian nominees for the laureate of the 2020 Prix Voltaire for promoting freedom of expression and publication.
On May 29, the Switzerland-based International Publishers Association (IPA) announced that this year’s four shortlisted candidates are Vietnam’s Liberal Publishing House, Malaysia’s Mr Chong Ton Sin, Pakistan’s Maktaba-e-Daniyal and Turkey’s Avesta Yayinlari.
The IPA, the world's largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers' associations, said Prix Voltaire nominees are publishers including individuals, groups or organizations who “stand firm on freedom to publish, be it as longstanding defenders of these values or having recently published works despite pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment from various sources.”
Founded in February 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City by dissidents, the unregistered Liberal Publishing House directly challenges the government’s control of publication and brings the non-fiction work of Vietnam’s growing crop of dissident writers to local readers. Its publications are known as Samizdat — the illegal copying and distribution of books — and are banned by the government as anti-state activity. Involvement carries a jail term of 20 years, forcing the publisher to operate clandestinely.
Amnesty International’s Vietnam campaign team reported that nearly 100 people have been questioned by police for either owning or reading books printed by the publisher. Early this year authorities detained activists for reading banned books in “an apparent crackdown on independent reading in the country.”
Liberal Publishing House said that being a nominee for the Prix Voltaire does great honor to its achievements. “This event will become a great pride for all of us who are addicted to relishing freedom,” it said.
After eight years in detention, Chong Ton Sin launched Gerakbudaya Publishing House in 2000 for controversial but important books for Malaysians to read at affordable prices and in all major languages in a country where much of the media and publishing was directly or indirectly controlled by the government through ownership and censorship. Recent books have focused on voices from recent political history as well as on deforestation, a source of corruption in Malaysia.
Maktaba-e-Daniyal published the award-winning satire A Case of Exploding Mangoes about Pakistan’s former martial law administrator/president Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in Urdu in Pakistan in 2019. The book’s copies were confiscated in a raid on the publisher early this year and its author Mohammed Hanif received a defamation notice from Gen. Zia’s son. The manager was threatened and officials demanded information on his whereabouts.
Avesta Yayinlari has published around 700 books, most in Kurdish and Turkish and some in English and French since its establishment in 1995. The company has faced lawsuits over the years for several books. Owner Abdullah Keskin was investigated in 2019 on charges of propaganda for terrorist organizations.
The IPA, whose membership comprises 83 organizations from 69 countries, said its Freedom to Publish Committee had selected the winner from the four remarkable and inspiring publishers who are willing to face risks to disseminate books they deem valuable to readers.
The association will reveal the laureate of the Prix Voltaire, which comes with a US$10,400 prize, during an online award ceremony on June 3.