Banned books and other forms of censorship

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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Catholic priest in Vietnam sentenced to 8 years

Father Nguyen Van Ly, a prominent Catholic priest and pro-democracy dissident, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment after a three hour trial in a Hue court, in which he was muzzled and then hustled out of the courtroom in midtrial for shouting some anti-communist slogans. Four other defendants were sentenced to terms ranging from probation to six years imprisonment. They were charged under Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code, which prohibits spreading anti-government propaganda. Their specific activities for which they were convicted were to publish a pro-democracy newsletter, establish a new political party, and communicating with overseas Vietnamese groups.

Observers describe Father Ly's trial as part of a major crackdown on dissent in the country, the worst in 20 years.

I write about this in much more detail at my other blog page, Vietnam Human Rights Journal. Because I write these blogs on my own time, and because I am also the Vietnam country specialist for Amnesty International USA, a volunteer position, I will have to spend alot more time now at my Vietnam Human Rights Journal blog and will probably not be able to post very much here at the Banned Books blog for the forseeable future.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

House hearings on climate change censorship

Congressional hearings are to take place tomorrow on "Shaping the Message, Distorting the Science: Media Strategies to Influence Public Policy." The hearings will be convened by the House Committee on Science and Technology Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee. Witnesses will include Dr. James J. McCarthy, professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard and a board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists; Sheldon Rampton of SourceWatch and co-author of “Trust Us, We’re Experts!”; Tarek Maassarani of Government Accountability Project and author, “Redacting the Science of Climate Change”; and Jeff Kueter, president of George C. Marshall Institute. The hearings are to be broadcast at the committee's website (and also I presume C-Span).

This is the second major congressional hearing in about a week on this subject. Last week Henry Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings focusing on apparent efforts to muzzle climate scientists by the Bush administration, with James Hansen of NASA and Philip Cooney, former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality as the principal witnesses. Cooney resigned his post in June 2005 "after reports surfaced about his editing of federal climate reports. He now works for Exxon Mobil Corp.," according to Energy and Environmental Daily. Hansen gained headlines last year after he complained of government efforts to obstruct him and other NASA scientists from publicly disclosing their findings on climate change.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Beijing court approves book ban

A Beijing court rejected a lawsuit by veteran journalist Dai Huang challenging the banning of his book, A Narrow Escape From Death, describing his prison experiences. Dai was labeled a righist for criticizing totatalitarian rule and the deification of Mao and sent to labor camp in 1957, where he spent the next 21 years. His book was published by the Central Compilation and Translation Press in 1998 and Xuelin Publishing House in 2001. However when he sought to have it reprinted last year, the Writers Publishing House said it was impossible, following a June 7 order by the General Administration of Press and Publication and publication department which said it was "not suitable to be published". Huang's lawyer Zhang Sizhi said they will appeal the case.

Source: South China Morning Post, March 20.

India court hears banned book case

The Bombay High Court reserved judgment on a petition against the banning of a book about Maratha warrior Shivaji written by American author James Laine, titled Shivaji - The Hindu King in Muslim India. The book had been banned in Jan. 2004 following the ransacking of Pune- based Bhadarkar Oriental Research Institute by activists of Sambhaji Brigade, a pro-Maratha body. The banning was justified on grounds that it incited enmity between different groups in the society, particularly "those who revere Shivaji and those who do not.” Lawyer Sanghraj Rupawate, documentary film maker Anand Patwardhan and social activist Kunda Pramila filed the petition against the ban.

Source:, March 26.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CPUSA archives to New York University

Today's New York Times features a lengthy front page article on the donation of materials from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) to the Tamiment library of New York University. According to the report:

"The donation includes 20,000 books, journals and pamphlets and a million photographs from The Daily Worker’s archives.

"Sam Webb, national chairman of the Communist Party USA, said, 'We felt that Tamiment could better maintain the collection and provide for a much wider audience.' He said hardly any of the files were reviewed before being given away."

The report mentions that the university library also has another part of the CPUSA archives, records which were sent to Moscow for safekeeping 50 years ago, and then microfilmed by the U.S. Library of Congress, despite the vociferous objections of some affiliated with the CPUSA, most notably Mark Rosenzweig, who headed the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, the official library of the CPUSA headquarters in New York City.

Michael Nash, director of the library, says it will take years to catalog the materials.

Update: A March 23 speech by Jarvis Tyner on the transfer of these materials was published in Political Affairs today (April 3). Tyner is executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Dissident textbooks banned in Indonesia

Indonesia's Attorney General Office (AGO) has announced that 13 history textbooks have been banned and others may also be banned, for not conforming to the official view that the 1965 attempted coup d'etat in the country was caused soley by the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI). The Supreme Court approved the decision, stating that the books, which have been used in the country's universities and public schools since 2004, challenge "accepted truths" and could therefore cause public disorder.

China ban on eight books modified

China censors have modified slightly their ban on eight books: booksellers will be allowed to continue selling the books until they are sold out, but cannot restock them. The modification comes amidst strong protest from bloggers over the banning. Writer Zhang Yihe, whose book is on the banned list, and whose previous books have been banned, wrote an open letter to the China government, demanding a lifting of the ban and an end to all censorship in the country.

Dismal report on press freedom in the Americas

There has been siginificant deterioration of press freedom in the Americas since last October, reports the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). It noted seven journalists killed in Mexico, one in Haiti, and dozens of journalists in other Latin American countries who have received death threats. However, it said the killings were the result of gang warfare and drug trafficking, not political confrontation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Independent librarian in Cuba interviewed

A very interesting interview with Gisela Delgado Sablón, head of the independent library project in Cuba, was published in La Nueva Cuba and in English translation (by Robert Kent) at the 4freadom website. Delgado says that of the 75 dissidents tried in the 2003 Cuba trials, 16 were librarians. There were 103 independent libraries at the time of the trials, but afterwards, she says:

"..those of us who remained free were threatened with long prison terms if we didn't cease our work as promoters of culture. Because of all the threats and book confiscations, many of our libraries were almost empty; this library [the Dulce Maria Loynaz Library], the principal one, was almost empty, 1000 books were confiscated, not counting magazines and newspapers."

She says, however, that the libraries have been able to replenish their collections, thanks to the support of international non-government organizations, particularly from Sweden, Spain, France, Holland, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and the United States. She says the libraries have "expanded, the groups of readers in rural areas have increased, something we had not managed to do before [the 2003 crackdown.] We work for all segments of Cuban society, without any kind of exclusions."

She also noted the "heroic" speech given by writer Cesar López at this year's Havana book fair, in which he praised the writings of once banned, and now deceased, writers Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Heberto Padilla, Reinaldo Arenas, Severo Sarduy, Gastón Baquero and Jesús Díaz, at an event at which Raul Castro was present.

She estimated over 240,000 patrons have visited independent libraries this year, and said there are many others who do not visit these libraries, but are involved with them through their participation in readers' groups, who make use of about 60-80 books per group.

She thanked the international community, "which needs to support a country where information is shut out and where people do not have access to the Internet, where a monopoly of information exists, where the Cuban government tells people what they should read every day, and tells them how they should interpret what they read."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

U.S. State Department report released

The United States State Department issued today its annual country-by-country report on worldwide human rights conditions for 2006. I have found this report to be very useful over the years.

China may end re-education prisons

China's parliament is considering legislation that would reform or end its re-education camp system, known as laogai, according to an article in today's (March 5) Los Angeles Times by Mark Magnier. The re-education camp system began 50 years ago, and has allowed police to "sentence petty criminals or anyone they consider troublemakers to as many as four years of incarceration without trial." It has been both an instrument of corrupt officials protecting themselves and as a method to quell dissent. Magnier says:

"Legal experts say draft reforms include reducing the maximum sentence to one year, better defining the appeal process, removing the high walls and electrified barriers often found around these facilities and placing greater emphasis on rehabilitation.

"Still lacking is any clear evidence the program will fall under judicial control."

Critics have also described this system as essentially unmonitored sweatshops, in which prison labor has become a major cog in China's economy and trade with other nations.

However, although the legislation is supported by some legal officials and experts in China, it is opposed by the Ministry of Public Security, so it may not be likely to see reform in this area anytime soon.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Southern Oregon libraries close

The Sunday San Francisco Chronicle (March 4) features a front page article on the closure of all public libraries in Jackson county of southern Oregon, described as the largest shut down of libraries in U.S. history. Fifteen libraries will be shut down, including at least one that just opened as a new library, and 100 library employees will be laid off. The libraries had lost $7 million in federal funding for this year, 80 percent of its annual budget, and the county in the midst of its own fiscal crisis from federal cutbacks, chose keeping public safety services as a higher priority.

According to reporter Meredith May,
the "crisis in southern Oregon can be traced not only to changing funding priorities on Capitol Hill, but also to crooked railroad deals in the Wild West, a spotted owl and a shrinking timber harvest." In November of last year, Jackson county residents voted down a $9 million property tax levy to keep the library system afloat. The same levy will come up on the ballot again this May, but "in order to pass, 50 percent of the registered voters have to participate in the election, and a majority of them have to vote yes."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The NLF interviews

There are banned books, there are burned books, and then there are buckshot books. The books here have some buckshot in them from a military attack on the U.S. Embassy during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Of course, that was not the main purpose of the raid, they were likely stray gunfire, but in any case it is an interesting piece of memorabilia. These are among 52 volumes of interviews conducted by the Rand Corporation and U.S. officials in South Vietnam during the war in Vietnam, with captured or defecting National Liberation Front soldiers. They were brought to the U.C. Berkeley library with the final closure of the UCB Indochina Center this last year. Very few libraries have these volumes, and among those that do, most have them in microfilm. For anyone doing research on the NLF and life in general in Vietnam during this time, they are very valuable primary source materials. They were originally assembled by Douglas Pike (my former supervisor) while he was a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Vietnam and brought to Berkeley when he retired from government in 1981 and brought his materials to U.C. Berkeley. He had intended to take the volumes with him when he moved to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech in 1997 but was prevented from doing so. Mr. Pike passed away in 2002, but these volumes are among the many items, including his prolific writings, that will carry on his legacy. The books in the photos will be repaired before shelving in the main stacks of our library here at U.C. Berkeley.

Friday, March 02, 2007

China bans reporting on 20 issues

China's Central Propaganda Department has instructed the state-controlled media it cannot report on 20 issues. Among the prohibited issues, according to Ming Pao (March 1), a Hong Kong based publication:

- The 50th anniversary of the Anti-Rightist struggle
- The July 7 Incident of 1937
- Excessive reporting on Chinese weaponry
- "Propaganda affirming private ownership , and exposing the inside story of the judiciary under the pretext of upholding human rights."
- Reporting "that touches on customs of minority races and sexuality, playing up aristocratic life and having concubines."
- Playing up "the disintegration of the Soviet Union."
- Propagating "independence for the universities ."

(My source: BBC Monitoring International Reports, March 1, as found on Lexis-Nexis).

Kansas bill on teacher prosecution stalled

A bill in the Kansas state legislature that would allow the prosecution of teachers for promoting obscenity has been sent back to committee. The bill "would end the automatic protection elementary, middle and high school teachers enjoy from prosecution over materials used in classes," reports Associated Press. The Kansas-National Education Association opposes the bill because it could be used to prosecute teachers for having students read novels containing vulgar language or sexual scenes.

According to AP: "On legislators' minds was the ongoing dispute between parents and officials in the Blue Valley school district in Johnson County over books on its reading lists. The novels to which parents object include Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, Wright's Black Boy, and Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. All three books are on Blue Valley's reading lists for students.."

Australia bans book on assisted suicide

The Peaceful Pill Handbook, by Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart, has been banned throughout Australia by the nation's Classification Review Board because it provides instructions on the illegal manufacture of barbituates. Board convenor Maureen Shelley said the book was not banned on moral grounds but because it encouraged readers to break the law, although she noted the drug-making instructions were "flawed and incomplete."

"The ban means the book cannot be sold, displayed or imported into the country and that all copies must be removed from bookstore shelves immediately," reports Agence France Presse.