The entire independent publishing sector in Belarus is among the shortlisted candidates for the International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire prize, its freedom to publish prize. The organisation announced the shortlist on the eve of this week’s Frankfurt Book Fair.
Alongside Belarus’ independent publishers are Dar Al Jadeed Publishing House, Lebanon; Mikado Publishing in Turkey; Samir Mansour Bookshop for Publishing, Palestine; and publisher Raul Figueroa Sarti in Guatemala.
The IPA says that a number of different independent Belarusian publishers/publishing houses have been nominated with requests for anonymity for the individual publishers, due to the possible risks they face. These risks include harassment in the form of police visits, seizure of computers, books, blocking of books from export, investigations by tax and finance authorities, application of high fines for alleged financial irregularities and blocking of bank accounts. These tend to take place particularly after publication of books critical of the government.
Al Jadeed was founded in 2000 by brothers Lokman Slim and Rasha al Almeer. In February 2021, Slim was murdered after having been the target of repeated threats and intimidation due to his efforts to bring about greater freedom of expression and open dialogue to Lebanon.
Mikado Publishing in Turkey, founded in 2006. They have been prosecuted on charges of obscenity for the publication of “Where do babies come from?” The publisher faces 6-12 years in prison with the case pending at the court of appeal. Mikado received the Turkish Publishers’ Association Freedom of Thought and Expression Award in 2020.
Samir Mansour Bookshop for Publishing in Palestine, based in Gaza for over 20 years before being destroyed in the Israeli missile attacks on Gaza in May 2021. The bookshop and publishing house was a critical part of the local community and contained tens of thousands of books in various languages covering a wide variety of subjects. It had been characterized as “a way to lift the siege on Gaza through literature”.
Publisher Figueroa Sarti has promoted the organization of independent publishers in Central America and led to the founding of the Independent Central American Group, which became the focus for the dissemination of Central American literature in the international market. The IPA says that in 2009, Sarti faced a “malicious judicial process that aimed to paralyze his editorial work and that initially resulted in a one-year prison sentence which was later suspended”.
The award ceremony for the 2021 Prix Voltaire will take place during the 35th Feria Internacional del Librro de Guadalajara in Mexico at the end of November. The prize carries a purse of CHF 10,000 made possible by generous contributions from sponsors, all of which are publishing houses and organizations that share the values that the IPA Prix Voltaire recognizes.
Formerly the Freedom to Publish Prize, the award was re-launched as the Prix Voltaire in 2005. It takes its name from the French writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778) who famously said: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”.