Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said: The 2020 IPA Prix Voltaire shortlist is made up of 4 remarkable publishers who put themselves at great risk to bring books they deem valuable to readers. We celebrate their bravery and thank them for being an inspiration to publishers around the world.

The IPA Freedom to Publish Committee (FtPC) is responsible for picking the shortlist and final winner. It comprises nine publishing professionals from Argentina, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Norway, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Turkey and the United States. The following four nominees were selected for this year’s shortlist:

  • Avesta Yayinlari (Turkey)
  • Mr Chong Ton Sin (Malaysia)
  • Liberal Publishing House (Vietnam)
  • Maktaba-e-Daniyal (Pakistan)

The award ceremony for the 2020 Prix Voltaire will be announced at the 33rd International Publishers Congress in Lillehammer, Norway, taking place from 28-30 May 2020.

Prix Voltaire nominees are publishers – 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. 

Previous prize recipients include Egyptian Publisher Khaled Lotfy, Swedish Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai (2018),Turkish publisher Turhan Günay and publishing house Evrensel, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (2016) and Belarusian publisher Ihar Lohvinau (2014).

About the nominees 

Avesta Yayinlari, Publishing House, Turkey

Avesta was founded in 1995 and has published around 700 books,with some in English and French but most in Kurdish and Turkish. The company has faced lawsuits over the years for a number of its books. Upon the opening of a bookshop in south eastern Turkey in 1999 these lawsuits intensified and their warehouse subject to an arson attack which destroyed 3000 books and ultimately the closing of the store in 2016. The owner of the publishing house, Abdullah Keskin, was investigated in 2019 on charges of propaganda for terrorist organizations. The company received the Turkish Publishers Association Freedom of Thought and Expression award in 2019.

Mr Chong Ton Sin, Gerakbudaya/SIRD Publishing House, Malaysia

After many years of political activism and 8 years in detention, Mr Chong Ton Sin launched Gerakbudaya Publishing House in 2000 and then an academic imprint SIRD in 2003. His intention was to create a publishing house and distributor for controversial but important books for Malaysians to read at affordable prices and in all the country’s major languages. At the time, much of Malaysian media and publishing was directly or indirectly controlled by the government through ownership and censorship. Recent books included The Sarawak Report on the 1MDB scandal, other publications have focused on other voices from Malaysia’s recent political history as well as on deforestation (a source of corruption in Malaysia). 

Liberal Publishing House, Vietnam

The publishing house was founded in February 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City by a group of dissidents as a direct challenge to the government’s control of the industry and to bring the non-fiction work of Vietnam’s growing crop of dissident writers to the nation’s readers. In Vietnam such publications are known as Samizdat – the illegal copying and distribution of books – and are banned by the government as “anti-state” activity. Involvement therein carries a jail term of 20 years, forcing Liberal Publishing House to operate clandestinely.

According to Amnesty International’s Vietnam campaign team, police have questioned nearly 100 people for either owning or reading books printed by Liberal Publishing House. On 3 January 2020, authorities detained activists for reading books from Liberal Publishing House in “an apparent crackdown on independent reading in the country”. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the intimidation and harassment of Liberal Publishing House to stop.

Maktaba-e-Daniyal, Pakistan

The award-winning satire “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” by journalist turned novelist Mohammed Hanif about Pakistan’s former Martial law administrator /president Gen Zia-ul-Haq was published in Urdu in Pakistan by Maktaba-e-Daniyal in November 2019. In January 2020 copies were confiscated in a raid on the publisher and the author reported to have received a defamation notice from Gen Zia’s son.

Author Mohammed Hanif has said that people claiming to be from the ISI barged into his Urdu publisher Maktaba Daniyal offices, confiscated all copies of the Urdu translation of A Case of Exploding Mangoes. The manager was threatened, and officials had demanded information on his whereabouts. Hanif also said security agents seized stock from his Karachi publishers and bookshops in Islamabad and Lahore. The book was launched to acclaim in English in 2008, when it, was long-listed for the Man Booker prize. The book won the Commonwealth first book prize in 2009.

About the IPA Prix Voltaire

The IPA Prix Voltaire is unique in honouring the freedom to publish, without which many forms of freedom of expression would be impossible. Publishers who provide authors with the tools to disseminate their written ideas assume the same risks as the writers themselves.

Nominees have usually published controversial works amid pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment, be it from governments, other authorities or private interests. Alternatively, they may be publishers with a distinguished record of upholding the values of freedom to publish and freedom of expression. For the purposes of the IPA Prix Voltaire, the definition of ‘publisher’ is an individual, collective or organization that provides others with the means to share their ideas in written form, including via digital platforms.

The IPA Prix Voltaire, which comes with a CHF 10,000 prize, is 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.

The sponsors of the 2020 IPA Prix Voltaire are, in alphabetical order: