By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Imprisoned in ‘a Country of Such Rich Literary Heritage’As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the International Publishers Association released a shortlist in mid-April with candidates for the 2019 Prix Voltaire from Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, South Africa, and Turkey.
This morning (May 2), the IPA offices in Geneva have announced that Egyptian bookseller and publisher Khaled Lotfy is the winner of the accolade this year, for what’s termed by the program as “exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and enabling others to exercise their freedom of expression.”
The founder of the Cairo-based Tanmia bookshop and publishing house, Lotfy reportedly was sentenced in February to five years on charges of divulging military secrets. Allegations in the case involve an Arabic translation of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph, a book published in the United States by HarperCollins in a translation by David Hazony.
It can be anticipated that the achievement of the Prix Voltaire by Lotfy will energize a solidarity campaign underway on his behalf with the hashtag #متضامن_مع_خالد_لطفي
The Netflix film, The Angel (2018) in director Ariel Vromen’s production written by David Arata, is based on the Bar-Joseph book in question.
“IPA calls on President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to grant Khaled Lotfy a presidential pardon.”José Borghino
As is frequently the situation in the work of championing such figures as Lotfy, mainstream coverage of his plight is relatively limited. Last year’s laureate—the publisher Gui Minhai, repeatedly detained by Beijing—was an exception, in that his long and ongoing experience has been widely covered by the international press corps, not least thanks to steadfast support from Stockholm for Gui, a Swedish citizen.
One of the key benefits of the IPA’s Prix Voltaire program can be that it surfaces such cases of publishing oppression, triggering higher levels of news coverage and exposing regimes that challenge and curtail the freedoms of expression and publication.
In the case of Khaled Lotfy, PEN America refers to an ArabLit report from Morocco-based Marcia Lynx Qualey that says, in part, “The case started when Tanmia’s founder signed an agreement with Arab Scientific Publishers to publish an Egyptian edition of the controversial book about Ashraf Marwan (1944-2007), alleged to have spied on Egypt for Israel. Egyptian officials deny that Marwan was a spy.”
ArabLit’s account says that Lotfy is reported to have undergone a military trial and that charges involved spreading false rumors and disclosing military secrets. An Erem News report dates Lotfy’s arrest to April 2018.
Tanmia Bookshop opened in 2011 and was written up in a listing of Cairo bookstores in 2014 as being a family store run by Lotfy and his brothers. Its publishing operation is reported by the IPA to include not only translations but also works in Arabic such as a children’s book version of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem with illustrations by the Egyptian-Canadian artist Sahar Abdallah, Think of Others.
That release won a 2018 award from the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, a literary awards program managed by the United Arab Emirates’ Board on Books for Young People, the UAE’s national section of the international body, known as the IBBY. The Etislat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature was opened in 2009 by the Sheikha Bodour bint Al Qasimi of Sharjah, who today is vice-president of the IPA.
Prize Presentation Set for June in Seoul
Today’s announcement advances the growing stature of the IPA’s humanitarian award, the impact of which has grown in recent years with its slate of high-profile honorees—most recently Gui in China, whose daughter accepted the Prix Voltaire on his behalf in February 2018 at the IPA’s 32nd World Congress in New Delhi.
The award was known as the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize until 2016, when it was awarded during the London Book Fair to the imprisoned Saudi online publisher Raif Badawi. With the name change came an accelerated, annual schedule; until 2016 it had been conferred every other year.
The annual IPA Prix Voltaire today carries a purse of 10,000 Swiss francs (US$9,821), which is made possible by contributions from publishing houses and organizations (listed below), companies that share the values recognized by the award program.
Both the shortlist and the winner are chosen by the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, which is led by the Norwegian Publishers Association CEO Kristenn Einarsson, known as a highly articulate and dedicated advocate for those who find themselves struggling under pressure and punishment for efforts in freedom of speech and the right to publish openly.
In announcing Lotfy as the winner of the 2019 Prix Voltaire, Einarsson is quoted, saying, “The international publishing community stands with Khaled Lotfy. We must support Lotfy’s fellow publishers in Egypt so that his imprisonment does not lead to fear and self-censorship in a country of such rich literary heritage.”
And José Borghino, the IPA’s secretary general, has issued with the award a demand from the world publishers’ body for action from Cairo, saying, “IPA calls on President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to grant Khaled Lotfy a presidential pardon.”
The 2019 Prix Voltaire’s Management
Members of the Freedom to Publish Committee this year working with Einarsson are:
- Louise Adler, Australia
- Sherif Bakr, Egypt
- Ana Maria Cabanellas, Argentina
- Travsin Jittidecharak, Thailand
- Myung-hwan Kim, the Republic of Korea
- Giulia Marangoni, Italy
- Jessica Sänger, Germany
- Geoff Shandler, United States
In addition to Lotfy, the shortlisted candidates for this year’s honor were:
- NB Publishers (South Africa)
- Azadeh Parsapour, Nogaam Publishing (Iran/UK)
- Tekin Publishing House (Turkey)
- Moe Way / The Eras (Myanmar)
“We must support Lotfy’s fellow publishers in Egypt so that his imprisonment does not lead to fear and self-censorship in a country of such rich literary heritage.”Kristenn Einarsson
Of particular interest to our readers, Azadeh Parsapour—the publisher based in London who works to produce and circulate Persian literature out of favor with the Iranian government—this year was nominated for a third time. The Tehran Book Fair Uncensored tour she established is now on the road for its fourth iteration.
As the IPA describes the Prix Voltaire today, its nominees can be either people or companies. In this year’s cycle, two nominees are publishing houses and three candidates are people. “For the purposes of the IPA Prix Voltaire,” the organization clarifies, 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.”
Sponsors who are funding the Prix Voltaire program and its award this year are:
- Albert Bonniers Förlag (Sweden)
- Aschehoug (Norway)
- Bonnier Media Deutschland (Germany)
- Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (Germany)
- Cappelen Dammv (Norway)
- Gyldendal (Norway)
- Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (Germany)
- Natur & Kultur (Sweden)
- Norstedts (Sweden)
- Verlagsgruppe Random House (Germany)
- Storytel (Sweden)
In addition to its operation and presentation of the annual Prix Voltaire, the IPA actively supports similar initiatives on the world stage, including Freedom of Expression in Focus at the Göteborg Book Fair; the International Symposium on Neo-Censorship (Threats to the Open Book), Amsterdam; the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression, Oslo; a UN-side event on Freedom of Expression and Defamation of Religions on 16 September 2010; and the 7th Gathering for Freedom of Expression, Istanbul.