Banned books and other forms of censorship

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

Monday, May 26, 2008

Vietnam reporters arrested for corruption reporting

Two reporters with the state sponsored Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre newspapers of Vietnam have been arrested for their reporting on a major corruption scandal in the country. Both newspapers have protested strongly, which is unusual under the circumstances. The arrested reporters are Thanh Nien’s Nguyen Viet Chien and Tuoi Tre’s Nguyen Van Ha. They are charged with “abuse of power.”

The Economist noted:

In an unprecedented show of defiance, both newspapers are standing by their reporters. Thanh Nien has run an editorial demanding: “Free the honest journalists.” It says it has been “swamped” with messages of support from the public and some National Assembly members. It challenges the authorities to explain why, if the offending articles had been so inaccurate, none of the police, prosecutors and the ministry of public security had got around to pointing out the errors at any time in the past two years.

Chinese dissident writers interviewed

The Washington Post interviews dissident writers Ma Jian, 54, Xiaolu Guo, in its May 25 edition; both of them now living in London. Ma comments that his "work has been banned in China since my first book about Tibet, Stick Out Your Tongue[1985], became the target of an enormous government campaign in which all copies were destroyed." He is able to visit China but not able to write or speak out there. Guo, who is also a flimmaker, says: "film censorship is much stricter than literary censorship. There are only 200 official films a year, so none of my films has been shown there. My art criticism and film theory were received all right, and my two latest novels [ 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers] will be published there soon. I'm not sure if the sex will be censored." See also Los Angeles Times, for a review of Ma's book, Beijing Coma, about a survivor of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, who is "lying in a coma, a bullet in his brain. A piece of his skull remains in the hospital refrigerator; soft spongy skin has grown over the wound. He is blind, mute and paralyzed but still able to hear. From his bed, he recalls his youth and the 1989 occupation of Tiananmen Square, where he was shot."

Book banning in Iran

Jahanshah Rashidian of the France-based Iran Press Service comments May 19 on large scale book banning in Iran:

Recalling not only the book-burning of 1933 by the Nazis, but also the early invasion of Islam in Iran, the regime launched in 1980 a cultural revolution to alienate Iranians from their pre-Islamic great civilisation by islamo-arbising the whole Iranian culture. Following the cultural revolution, bands of Hezbollahis and Islamists attacked, destroyed and burnt libraries in Iran. Millions of books were destroyed, and thousands of allegedly readers of such books were imprisoned or executed.

Not only the Islamic Republic of Iran's Ministry of Islamic guidance and Culture now censors some of Iran's best contemporary writers and researchers, such as Sadegh Hedayat, Sadegh Choobak, Ebrahim Golestan, Gholamhossein Sa’aedi, Ahmad Kasravi, Ali Dashti, Ebrahim Poordavoud, Zabih Behrouz, and others, but even in the recent years, they removed parts and whole pieces of works by well-known poets such as Souzani Samarghandi, Omar Khayam, Molana Jalaledin Rumi, Nezami Ganjavi, Abid Zakani, Iradj Mirza, and even some lexicons from Ali Akbar Dehkhoda and Farhang Mo’in as non-Islamic.

Independent bookstore in Moscow challenged

Moscow News reports, May 15, on the many challenges faced by the Falanster bookstore in Moscow, which has faced many challenges in the years since it was opened in 2002: "It has undergone numerous inspections to check books on its shelves for conformity with the law on extremism, pornography and drug enforcement. Moreover, three years ago, the old store in Bolshoi Kozikhinsky Pereulok burnt down one night, allegedly as a result of a deliberate hand grenade explosion. The culprits were never found." The store reopened in another location, but in Dec. last year it was almost closed on charges (apparently unsustantiated) that it sold pornographic works, and this month was raided by the police. Radio Moscow comments:

What's good about having independent bookstores like Falanster? First, they can sell books put out by small publishers that would find it extremely difficult to get their books to the market elsewhere, especially in a market getting monopolized by huge publishing houses and huge bookstore chains.

Second, stores like Falanster are not as afraid as bigger stores of carrying "risky" titles that may be condemned or even banned.

Independent library movement in Cuba

Marijke van der Meer of Radio Netherlands also reports, May 16, on the independent library movement in Cuba and the support it has received from the Dutch-based Pax Christi. Marianne Moor, a spokesperson for Pax Christi, says:

What we do is send volunteers to see what is needed and then we ask Dutch tourists who go to Cuba to take the books with them in their backpack and personally deliver them to one of the independent libraries. One tourist we spoke with dropped off books in a library they found in a very small house in a poor neighborhood in Santa Clara, and she said the experience was both "very special" and also "a little bit freaky":

A man opened the door. He looked very nervous but he was happy to see us and to hear that we were bringing books. He then very proudly showed us his library, a small room with two bookshelves and a small table. He also showed us very proudly a box with cards in it, with the names of the people who come to borrow books, and he told us it was not safe to have this box in his house. So every night he brought it somewhere else so that when the police came it was not clear who was borrowing books.

Iranian author profiled

From Radio Netherlands, May 16:

"Shahrnush Parsipur is considered one of the most important writers in the Persian language today. But her books are all banned in her native Iran, and she now lives in exile in the United States..." Click here for the rest of the article by Marijke van der Meer.