The prize, which is given annually by the Association of American Publishers International Freedom to Publish Committee (IFTPC), was acknowledged at the PEN Literary Gala the evening of May 16, 2016 at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Shuddhashar was established in 2004 by three colleagues: Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul, Mahbub Leelen, and Zafir Setu, and prints primarily works of open-minded and progressive writers in Bangladesh. In 2013, the publishing house was awarded the Shaheed Munir Chowdhury Award for publishing the highest number of best-sellers in Bangladesh, and is considered one of the most important publishing houses in Bangladesh.
The three publishers have gone into exile but have vowed to continue to publish and make their works available in Bangladesh.
Geoff Shandler, Vice President and Editorial Director, Custom House/William Morrow, and Chairman of the IFTPC says:
- 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,” “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.
Tutul, who is currently ICORN writer-in-residence in Skien City of Refuge in Norway, was not able to attend the ceremony, but his colleague and co-founder of the Shuddhashar publishing house, Mahbub Leelen, was there to receive the award on their behalf. At the gala, he met Salman Rushdie and discussed the situation of Bangladeshi writers and freethinkers.
Upon the acknowledgement of the prize, Leelen said to the AAP: - 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.
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul says, - The award encourages Shuddhashar to continue to fight for the freedom to write and to seek justice for the murdered writers of Bangladesh.
Attacks on secular writers in Bangladesh
In the course of the past year, a string attacks on secular writers, bloggers and publishers have occurred in Bangladesh. They have been killed, often hacked to death, by religious fanatics who have aimed to silence them and to stop them from pursuing an open intellectual debate. The murders of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Dash made headlines in world media, but many others have been assaulted and yet others are living under constant threat for their lives. Assassination lists of secular bloggers are circulating on the web—those who are still alive are meant to be intimidated by these killings, and thereby to be silenced. Since applications from Bangladeshi writers and freethinkers started to amount in February 2015, ICORN has been able to give refuge to three, in Bergen, Skien and Pittsburgh.
The Bangladeshi Publishing House Shuddahshar is the publisher of the late Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, and several others secular writers hacked to death since 2013 for their open-minded writings. The publishing house became targets of the fundamental groups and in October 2015, Tutul was attacked by several men in his office in Dhaka, scarcely surviving. He fled to Nepal while still under treatment and arrived in Skien City of Refuge in February 2016.
The publications of Shuddhashar includes Obishwaser (Philosophy of non-belief) written by the late Avijit Roy and Raihan Abir. Also Parthiba (Nothing is Divine), which is a collection of articles on secularism and rationalism, written by the late Ananta Bijoy Dash and Shoikot Chawdhury. These and other books published by Shuddhashar are seen as blasphemous by Islamic extremists in Bangladesh.
The Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award
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.
The Association of American Publishers (AAP)
The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents about four hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital learning and education and professional publishers alongside independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies.