03:48 PM

Bangladeshi Publishing House to Receive International Freedom to Publish Award

Though targeted by Islamic extremists, the house bravely continues to publish secular works in Bangladesh

Secular writers are the most vulnerable group of people in Bangladesh, and we are not getting justice for the writers and publishers killed
Mahbub Leelen, co-founder of Shuddhashar Publishing House

Washington, DC; May 5, 2016 — Shuddhashar Publishing House, publisher of popular works by secular and progressive Bengali writers, which has been targeted by Islamic militant groups with threats and acts of violence, will receive the 2016 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award. The prize, which is given annually by the Association of American Publishers International Freedom to Publish Committee (IFTPC), will be acknowledged at the PEN Literary Gala the evening of May 16, 2016 at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Shuddhashar (the name means “pure voice”) was established in 2004 by three colleagues: Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul, Mahbub Leelen, and Zafir Setu. While commercially successful, (in 2013 it had more bestsellers than any other Bangladeshi publisher), the publisher enraged Islamic extremists for issuing works by secular authors such as Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, both of whom were killed during a spree of violence that targeted writers, publishers and bloggers.

Shuddhashar co-founder Tutul barely survived an attack at his office last fall.

The response of the Bangladeshi government to the violence against publishers and writers has been indifference or outright hostility for publishing “blasphemy.” Publishers Tutul, Leelen, and Setu have since gone into exile but have vowed to continue to publish and make their works available in Bangladesh.

“Secular writers are the most vulnerable group of people in Bangladesh, and we are not getting justice for the writers and publishers killed,” said Mahbub Leelen. “We cannot let it go on because secularism was one of the moving forces behind the independence of Bangladesh. This recognition will send a clear message to both the government and the fundamentalists that Bangladeshi secular writers and publishers are not alone in their battle.”

“It takes an unfathomable sort of courage to publish in the face of horrific threats of violence against yourself and your family - especially when your government is not only unwilling to help, but actually siding with the killers,” said Geoff Shandler, Vice President and Editorial Director, Custom House/William Morrow, and Chairman of the IFTPC. “Refusing the safety of silence, the founders of Shuddhashar and their martyred authors embody that courage. We are deeply honored to recognize them with this award.”

Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul said, “The award encourages Shuddhashar to continue to fight for the freedom to write and to seek justice for the murdered writers of Bangladesh.”

The Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award recognizes a book publisher outside the United States who has demonstrated courage in the face of restrictions on freedom of expression. The award is named in honor of Jeri Laber, one of the founding members of the IFTPC and the committee’s professional adviser for more than thirty years. She was a founder of Helsinki Watch (which ultimately became Human Rights Watch), and was its executive director from 1979 to 1995. She is also the author of a memoir, The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age with the Human Rights Movement.


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