Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Vietnam releases writer Pham Hong Son

Dr. Pham Hong Son has been released from prison in Vietnam, but his release will be followed by three years of house arrest, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Dr. Son had been detained since 2002 for writing dissident essays and translating and posting online an essay titled “What is Democracy?” that had first appeared on the U.S. State Department’s web site. CPJ called for the house arrest conditions to be lifted and also urged the release of another internet writer and journalist, Nguyen Vu Binh, who is serving a seven year sentence. In an Aug. 24 letter to Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet, CPJ executive director Joel Simon protested the harassment of five writers who intend to start an online independent newspaper titled Tu Do Dan Chu (Freedom and Democracy). He also protested increased internet restrictions and a July 1 decree which expands criminal penalities for dissident writers.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chicago Tribune reporter held in Sudan

Reporters Without Borders is urging the release of Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek, along with his driver Suleiman Abakar Moussa and his interpreter, Abdulraman Anu, who are both Chadians. According to RWB, they have been "held since 6 August in Al Fashir, the capital of the western state of North Darfur," and "have just been charged with spying and entering Sudan illegally." RWB believes the accusations are intended to dissuade foreign journalists from covering events there. Prior to his arrest, Salopek was working on a report about the Sahel region for National Geographic magazine.

Internet restrictions in Vietnam increase

Open Net Initiative has written a detailed report on increasing restrictions on internet use in Vietnam. It says:

"This study by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) finds that the Vietnamese state attempts to block citizens from accessing political and religious material deemed to be subversive along various axes. The technical sophistication, breadth, and effectiveness of Vietnam's filtering are increasing with time, and are augmented by an ever-expanding set of legal regulations and prohibitions that govern on-line activity. Vietnam purports to prevent access to Internet sites primarily to safeguard against obscene or sexually explicit content. However, the state's actual motives are far more pragmatic: while it does not block any of the pornographic sites ONI tested, it filters a significant fraction -- in some cases, the great majority -- of sites with politically or religiously sensitive material that could undermine Vietnam's one-party system. Vietnam's Internet infrastructure and market are dynamic and fast-changing, but it seems inescapable that the state's on-line information control will deepen and grow."

For the PDF version of the report click here.

The Learning Tree challenged

A member of the Mobile county school board in Alabama is seeking to remove Gordon Parks' book, The Learning Tree, from this summer's reading list for upcoming ninth-graders at LeFlore High School in Mobile, reports the Alabama Press-Register. Fleet Belle, who says he has read sections of the book, wants it removed because of its "inappropriate and unacceptable" language. The novel, written in 1963, describes the life of a black youth growing up in Kansas in the 1920s and 1930s and the harsh racism he encountered. Parks had also achieved fame as a photographer.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More than a book a day challenged in U.S.

A press release of the American Library Association promoting Banned Books Week (Sept. 23-30) reports:

"More than a book a day faces expulsion from free and open public access in U.S. schools and libraries every year. There have been more than 8,700 attempts since the American Library Association (ALA) began electronically compiling and publishing information on book challenges in 1990..."

It is not clear from the press release how many of these efforts are successful.

The ALA press release also says:

"There were 405 known attempts to remove books in 2005. Challenges are defined as formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. About 70 percent of challenges take place in schools and school libraries. "

Update: According to Associated Press, the 405 challenges is the lowest on record since ALA first began tracking the number of challenges in the 1980s. AP also reports:

"The number of works actually pulled has also decreased over the past quarter century, from more than 200 in 1982, to at least 44 last year, including Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," the Nobel laureate's debut novel. The school board in Littleton, Colo., ordered the book removed, largely because of the story includes the rape of an 11-year-old girl by her father."

Turkish novelist to be tried for "insulting Turkishness"

Novelist Elif Shafak is to be brought to trial in a Turkish court Sept. 21 for "insulting Turkishness", according to a report of PEN American Center. She is the third prominent Turkish novelist to be tried in just over a year. Shafak, who divides her time between Turkey and teaching at the University of Arizona, wrote her novel in English about two families, one in Instanbul and the other an Armenian family living in San Francisco. The offending passage in her book mentions Turkey's genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century. The Turkish version of her book is a bestseller.

Florida School Board Seeks to Remove Books

A Florida school board voted 5-2 to continue its effort to ban from school libraries a children's book on Cuba, along with 23 other books in this series. The Cuba book, titled Vamos a Cuba, was deemed by Cuban refugees to gloss over human rights abuses in Cuba. The district, representing Miami-Dade county, is appealing a temporary court order barring the removal of this book.


Hello, everyone. The purpose of this blog is to monitor various forms of censorship, here in America, and around the world. I will post brief summaries of news items on this subject, beginning soon. Comments are welcome. My name is Stephen Denney. I work at the library of the University of California, Berkeley, cataloging books. I also have been the Vietnam country specialist for Amnesty International USA, and participate in IFForum, an online unmoderated forum sponsored by the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom.