Banned books and other forms of censorship

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

Monday, February 26, 2007

Vietnam: Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly arrested

Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Vietnam reports today that dissident Catholic priest Fr. Nguyen Van Ly has been arrested in Hue, accused "of carrying out propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam according to point C, item 1, article 88 of the Penal Code. "

That Fr. Ly's only crime is to dissent from the ruling party in Vietnam is evident even in the official denunciation of him. Nhan Dan describes his supposed criminal history:

"Nguyen Van Ly, born on May 15, 1946 in Vinh Chap commune, Vinh Linh district of Quang Tri province, was appointed priest in 1974. After the liberation of the south, Nguyen Van Ly had carried out many activities against the country. In September 1977, he was arrested for illegally distributing documents against the administration. On December 9, 1983, he was sentenced for 10 years in prison by the People's Court of Binh Tri Thien province regarding his crime in attempting to destroy the people's unity bloc and security. In 1995, the People's Committee of Thua Thien-Hue decided to impose compulsory residence against him. On February 22, 2001, Thua Thien Hue authorities issued the administrative probation, however he disobeyed this and incited parishioners to act against the administration. On May 17, 2001, the police of Thua Thien-Hue arrested him and on May 19, 2001, he was sentenced 15 years in jail failing to comply with an administrative decision by authorised State agencies and for sabotaging the policy of uniting the whole people. On February 1, 2005, he was granted amnesty and was kept under surveillance at No. 69 Phan Dinh Phung street, Hue city."

The documents that Fr. Ly distributed in 1977 were statements of the archbishop of Hue at the time, Fr. Nguyen Kim Dien, who was one of the first religious leaders to publicly dissent from the regime's policies, at a time when the society was extremely closed, both within and toward the outside world.

Nhan Dan goes on to say that Fr. Ly showed no repentance after his release, moving from his residence several times without seeking official approval (indicating he was under a form of house arrest), and then "establishing contacts and colluding with political opportunists and reactionaries at home and abroad in order to issue the so-called 'declaration on calling for the right to form parties in Vietnam. and then the 'declaration on freedom and democracy for Vietnam in 2006' which sought signatures to support the attempt of overturn the administration."

Police raided his residence on Feb. 18, and confiscated "six computers, six printers, dozens of telephones connecting with the Internet, 136 mobile phone SIM cards and more than 200kg of documents relating to the establishment of reactionary organisations opposing the Communist Party and the State of Vietnam."

According to a press release today by Reporters Without Borders, Fr. Ly was editing a dissident magazine, Tu do Ngôn luan (Free Speech), at the time of his arrest. Two other editors of the magazine, long time dissident Father Chan Tin and Father Phan Van Loi, have been put under house arrest. The English language version of the manifesto referred to by Nhan Dan can be found here in audio format or read here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Malaysian activists protest book bans

A Malaysian human rights group, Suaram, has protested the banning by Malaysia's Internal Security Ministry of 52 books. Most are academic works discussing religion, other banned works discuss race, illegal drugs, and sex. Among the banned works are: The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam by John Esposito, Cannabis Culture, Weed World, and Classic Nude Photography Techniques and Images. The organization said:

"The ban of academic works by the ministry is a death knell to academic freedom in Malaysia. More importantly, the ban of these books violates the freedom of expression of the authors and the right to receive and impart information freely of the general public."

Egyptian writer's book banned, destroyed

All copies of Egyptian writer, feminist and psychiatrist Nawal Al Saadawi's latest book, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting, have been confiscated and destroyed by her publisher, reports the German news service dpa. The publisher, Mahmoud Madbouli, said he did so because the book "offended readers' religious sensitivities." Although he claimed his decision was not political, he admitted that security police ‘witnessed' the destruction. Dr. Saadawi is the author of more than 30 books, many of them banned. She has been imprisoned in Egypt for her views and lived in the U.S. for five years before returning to her native country.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Read a banned book challenge

Elaine Anderson of Pelham Public Library in Fenwick, Ontario, is promoting the reading of banned books at her Fahrenheit 451 site:

"Just in time for Freedom to Read Week, the Pelham Public Library is issuing this challenge to readers everywhere.

"Set a goal for yourself to read as many banned or challenged books as you wish between February 26 (Freedom to Read Week) and June 30, 2007. Visit the Pelham Public Library’s Fahrenheit 451: Banned Book Blog to set your goal and report on your progress. Not sure what to read? Check out the lists on the sidebar, click on our LibraryThing banner or visit some of the links. Don't forget to visit your own library in person too. Just so you know you aren't alone in this, I let you know which 'banned' authors are responding to the challenge to date.."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dissidents protest Nguyen Vu Binh's mistreatment

The following petition of prominent dissidents in Vietnam addresses the condition of journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, sent to me by the same friend who sent me the report of Dr. Pham Hong Son on Nguyen Vu Binh.


Urgent Call for Action To Save the Life of
Journalist Nguyen Vu Binh
in Light of His Critical Medical Condition

Having been unjustly imprisoned for over four years, journalist
Nguyen Vu Binh, 39, is presently facing a critical health condition.
According to a family member who visited Mr. Binh on February
15, 2007, he has lost a lot of weight, is having difficulty walking,
starting to slur his speech, and is so weak that he was could not
hold his five-year-old child. In addition to his chronic hypertension
and intestinal inflammation, Mr. Binh can hardly sleep at night
because of the back and chest pains he has had for over a
month now. In a recent doctor visit, he was diagnosed with steatosis.

Recently, due to his deteriorating health Mr. Binh has been referred
to the National Cardiovascular Institute, but was refused admission.
Many times, he had asked to be treated in a hospital but his requests
were denied.

We, the undersigned, representing Vietnam-based political parties,
human rights organizations, and press agencies,

- In light of the above incidents, resolutely condemn the Vietnamese
communist government's inhuman treatment of Mr. Binh before
world opinion.

- Urge the International Red Cross (IRC) to request that the
Vietnamese government allow IRC physicians to provide
Mr. Binh with emergency care inside the Nam Ha prison
[in northern Vietnam].

- Call upon the governments and people of all freedom loving
countries throughout the world, human rights advocacy
organizations, as well as Vietnamese overseas and inside the
country, to take urgent actions so as to protect, first and
foremost, the life of journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, and later
to secure his release from prison.

Hold the Vietnamese government to be totally responsible for the
safety and survival of Mr. Binh.

We appreciate your immediate attention, and we are ready to
provide, upon your request, necessary information regarding
Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh and his health condition.

Made in Vietnam, on this 16th day of February 2007.



1. Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights for Vietnam
Do Nam Hai, Nguyen Phong, Nguyen Chinh Ket

2. Bloc 8406:
Father Nguyen Van Ly, Do Nam Hai, Tran Anh Kim

3. Independent Trade Union of Vietnam:
Nguyen Khac Toan, Dao Van Thuy, Le Tri Tue

4. Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam:
Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Phuong Anh, Bach Ngoc Duong

5. Former Political and Religious Prisoners Association of Vietnam:
Most Ven. Thich Thien Minh, Dr. Pham Hong Son

6. Vietnam Progressive Party:
Nguyen Phong, Le Thi Cong Nhan, Nguyen Binh Thanh, Hoang Thi Anh Dao

7. Democratic Party of the XXI Century:
Hoang Minh Chinh

8. People's Democracy Party:
Tran Van Hoa

9. Freedom of Speech Online Magazine:
Fr. Chan Tin, Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, Fr. Phan Van Loi, Nguyen Van Dai, Nguyen Khac Toan

10. Freedom & Democracy Online Magazine:
Writer Hoang Tien, Nguyen Khac Toan, Nguyen Van Dai, Bach Ngoc Duong, Duong Thi Xuan

Vietnam: Nguyen Vu Binh seriously ill

From an exclusive report we received from a friend of Dr. Pham Hong Son, we have learned that Vietnam dissident Nguyen Vu Binh is seriously ill. Below is Dr. Son's report:


Urgent Report from Hanoi on Heavily Critical Health of Journalist Nguyen Vu Binh

On 15 Feb 2007, immediately after returning from visiting journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, who has been unjustly imprisoned in Nam Ha jail, Mrs. Bui Thi Kim Ngan, Nguyen Vu Binh's wife, told us in tears:

- Nguyen Vu Binh had to hop when walking and his back had to bend due to pain.

- He could not hold up his 5- year-old daughter.

- He felt tired to talk and had to stop talking at intervals in order to rest during conversation with his family.

- He has lost much more of his weight compared to the last visit of his family. His skin color has changed and darkened.

- Besides suffering from hypertension and chronic digestive dysfunction, he has suffered from permanent back pain and angina (chest pain) for more than a month. During a medical check, a doctor performing ultra-sound to check his liver revealed accidentally "Oh, poor man, you are suffering fatty liver (cirrhosis)!" Nguyen Vu Binh asked jail officers about that but they denied it. His health has deteriorated since the last medical check (Note: before any medical checks, jail officers discussed something secretly with relevant doctors)

- He has made several requests to be medically checked at National Cardiology Institute but his requests have been refused.

- Several times Nguyen Vu Binh called for help when suffering pain in jail cell but no one came to see him.

- Nguyen Vu Binh has been isolated in a small cell in Nam Ha jail.

Reported by Pham Hong Son 22:30 15/02/2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

Anti-conservative censorship on college campuses

Jack Stephens of Conservator cites a lengthy article by John Leo describing censorship in American universities against those perceived to be conservative, or advancing conservative ideas. The most ridiculous case, which Jack has discussed several times, is probably that of Scott Savage, a librarian at Ohio State Mansfield, who had a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by two professors after he recommended four conservative books for a freshman reading list. The two professors felt that one of the recommended books, The Marketing of Evil, by David Kupelian was threatening to them because of its criticism of homosexuality. The university dropped the investigation after after "a burst of publicity and a threat to sue," according to Leo.

At my university here at U.C. Berkeley, there have been a few similar incidents over my 24 years here, of conservative speakers being shouted down by protesters, or newspapers being stolen (at one time the mayor of our city stole the student paper, but was caught).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

43 writers receive Hellman/Hammet grants

Human Rights Watch has awarded Hellman/Hammet grants to 43 writers around the world this year. The annual grant program began in 1989, according to HRW, "when the American playwright Lillian Hellman willed that her estate be used to assist writers in financial need as a result of expressing their views." Human Rights Watch administers the program.

Of this year's grantees, more than half come from three countries: "China (nine), Vietnam (eight) and Iran (seven) – all of which have sad records of harassing and persecuting journalists, poets, playwrights, essayists, bloggers and novelists who dare to express ideas that criticize official public policy or people in power." Other countries represented include Burma, Cambodia, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Georgia (of former USSR), Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.

Turkey protests anti-genocide resolution

The Turkish government has protested a proposed resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives that would condemn as genocide the mass killing of around 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1917. Turkey denies that these deaths constitute genocide.

Its foreign minister Abdullah Gul met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and other top U.S. officials on Feb. 6. He warned that the resolution's passage would be a "real threat to our relationship," and hamper cooperation on Iraq and other issues. U.S. officials have said they would oppose the resolution, according to the Associated Press.

Turkey has been in the news over the last year because of its unwillingness to revoke Article 301 of its penal code, which makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness". This law has been used to prosecute those who write about the mass killings of Armenians, even writing a novel in the case of Elif Shafak, although she was acquitted.

My original source for this story was an entry by Kate Heneroty in Jurist Legal News & Research.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CPJ annual report released

The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued its annual report on worldwide press conditions, titled, Attacks on the Press. It summarizes the press situation in each country, and also describes worldwide trends. An accompanying press release notes the rise of popularly elected autocrats in Latin America, erosion of nuetral observance status for the press in war coverage, and increased violence in Iraq, "where 32 journalists were killed in the line of duty."

National library of Iraq travails in New York Times

In my Jan. 29 entry below, I mentioned the diary of Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive, describing the perilous violence he and his colleagues have had to endure while while trying to keep the library and archive open, posted at the website of the British Library. Today's New York Times discusses the diary and the extremely violent conditions suffered by Mr. Eskander and his staff, in an article by Patricia Cohen. She says: "In mid-January, he published a chart on the impact of sectarian violence on his staff for just the month of December. It included 4 assassinations of employees and 2 kidnappings, 66 murders of staff members’ relatives, 58 death threats and 51 displacements."

Mr. Eskander notes: "It is extremely difficult for my staff, including me, to work in a normal way. Many roads and bridges are often blocked. Hundreds of checkpoints are responsible for the daily heavy traffic. There is always the possibility of daily car-bomb attacks, assassinations, kidnapping and so on. Sometimes our drivers refuse to go to dangerous districts. All these ‘tiny things’ affect our works on daily basis."

However one may feel about the war, these library workers certainly deserve our support in their struggles to keep the national library open and functioning.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Abu Ghraib paintings by Fernando Botero

Our library here at U.C. Berkeley is hosting a display of Fernando Botero's paintings and drawings of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It is sponsoredby the UCB Center for Latin American Studies. The paintings are very powerful. In a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 22, Louis Freedberg commented on the fact that the paintings and drawings so far have been shown at only one other location within the United States, and no major museum seems interested in displaying them. Here is an excerpt:

The trickier question is why no U.S. museum chose to exhibit them. The only other place they have been shown in the United States was last November at New York's private Marlborough Gallery, which has been showing and selling Botero's work for decades.

Some museums may have had security concerns. Look at what happened to the Copabianco Gallery in San Francisco, which was forced to close in 2004 after it showed a painting depicting torture of an Iraqi detainee, and the gallery was vandalized and its owner assaulted.

Some museums may have rejected the Abu Ghraib series for artistic reasons (even though Botero's less serious works are in the permanent exhibitions of many U.S. museums). SFMOMA says it wasn't offered the exhibit.

Then there's the likelihood that some were scared away by the content. By contrast, several European museums, including the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, had no problems showing the work.

Botero's paintings got the cold shoulder here despite favorable reviews in a range of respected publications. In an article titled "The Iconography of Torture" in this month's edition of Art in America, for example, the reviewer said the Abu Ghraib paintings "bear comparison with much of the political art of the modern era ... Like Guernica, Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings are a cry of pain at the pointless suffering inflicted on the victims of wars." The Washington Post's culture critic called it a "remarkable show, and a disturbing one.."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Vietnam: Send a card to Thich Huyen Quang

Every year, Amnesty International USA holds a holiday card action campaign for various prisoners of conscience around the world. This past December, Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, the Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church Vietnam (UBCV), was one of those highlighted in this campaign. Since the Vietnamese new year, Tet, begins on Feb. 18 this year, I would like to propose this action campaign be extended for him.

The UBCV which Thich Huyen Quang leads has long been known for its independent stance in the face of government repression, both under the former government of the South, the Republic of Vietnam, and under the communist regime of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Along with other leading monks he was harassed and imprisoned under the first RVN president, Ngo Dinh Diem, and during this period they also linked up with overseas pacifist organizations supporting genuine reconciliation in the country. After the war ended in 1975, he and other UBCV leaders continued to speak up for peace and human rights and met harsh reprisals for their protests. In March 1977 Thich Huyen Quang wrote to then Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, detailing various forms of repression against Buddhist pagodas and clergy, and asked for redress.

As a result of this statement and some statements made by other UBCV leaders, Thich Huyen Quang and seven other leading UBCV monks were arrested and imprisoned, from June 1977 until Dec. 1978 (released after international protest). During his incarceration, Ven. Huyen Quang and his colleague Thich Quang Do (UBCV secretary general) were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, who had won the award for their peace work in Northern Ireland. The UBCV was essentially banned in 1981 when the government sponsored the creation of a state Buddhist church, which declared in its founding charter that it was the only legitimate representative of Buddhism within Vietnam and abroad. At this time all Buddhist organizations and churches were ordered to integrate themselves within the state church, but Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were sent into internal exile after they strongly protested this action.

Over the years, Thich Huyen Quang has continued to speak out boldly and defiantly for human rights and religious freedom, in statements that were smuggled outside of Vietnam and disseminated abroad. The result of his courageous words is that he has spent most of the last 30 years in prison or under house arrest. Yet his suffering has not been in vain: he should be regarded as a pioneer in the struggle against censorship and repression in his country, helping to move Vietnam toward a more open society (a goal still to be realized). I used to edit a newsletter on human rights in Vietnam, and published many translations of his courageous and eloquent statements. See for example his funeral oration for Thich Don Hau; it was with Venerable Don Hau's passing that Thich Huyen Quang formally rose to the position of Supreme Patriarch of the UBCV.

Now age 87, Thich Huyen Quang lives under house arrest at his pagoda in Binh Dinh province of central Vietnam. Cards of support can be sent to him in care of the following pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, and they will be forwarded to him (police surveillance in Binh Dinh is too tight to send to him directly):

Thich Huyen Quang
c/o chua giac Hoa
15/7 no trang Long
Phuong 7, Quan Binh Thanh
Tp Ho chi minh

Cards can say something simple, such as "we are thinking of you," or "we admire your courage and love for your country."