Leading Iranian Publisher Boycotts Tehran International Book Fair
Iranian publisher Shahla Lahiji has boycotted the annual Tehran International Book Fair for the fourth year running, to protest the government’s refusal to issue licenses to her publishing house.
“Since 2014, I have suggested 55 books for publication, but none of them have been issued a license. We voted for Mr. Rouhani to pay attention to the cultural situation of the country in keeping with his campaign slogans, but it seems nothing has changed, at least not in my case,” Shahla Lahiji told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
The Tehran International Book Fair is the most major publishing event in Iran, and this marks the 28th year of the fair.
“Either I am an undesirable individual, or my books are undesirable,” she told the Campaign. “I am sure that none of the 55 books have a problem. After all these years, I recognize the red lines and I know which books I should suggest for publication. Some of them are written by Iranian authors, and some are translated, and some of them are very important theoretical books about women-related issues,” she added.
Lahiji, the first female publisher in Iran, established the Roshangaran publishing house in 1983. Her publishing house received the PEN International prize in the United States and the Pandora prize in the United Kingdom in 2001.
With more than 30 years’ experience in the field of publishing, Shahla Lahiji told the Campaign that she has refused to attend the Tehran International Book Fair since 2012.
“Why should I participate, when they still ban books without any legitimate reasons? They had promised not to remove any books from the Book Fair, and not to close down any booths. But they shut down booths and banned books again. I expected these events. I gave up the good income I could have made at the Book Fair. I gave it up, so I won’t be witness to such disrespect,” said the veteran publisher.
This year’s ten-day Tehran Book Fair has been in progress since May 7. During the first two days, ten books were removed from the exhibition and 29 booths were shut down on May 10. The Committee to Review Publishers’ Violations, which was present at the fair, said the reason for the closures was “presenting and selling books by other publishers.”
Among the banned books are books written by political authors and poets, and books with critical content. Also an English book entitled, “A Critical Introduction to Khomeini,” written by Afshin Adib-Moghaddam, a Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies and Chair of the Center for Iranian Studies at SOAS, University of London, published by Cambridge University Press, was collected and banned from the Book Fair.
Regarding the closure of 29 booths in one day, Shahla Lahiji told the Campaign, “The excuse they offer, ‘presenting and selling books by other publishers,’ is unacceptable. The organization that collected the books and shut down the booths was not related to the Ministry of Culture [and Islamic Guidance]. All we tell them is you should enforce the laws you have set for book publishing yourselves. When you give a license for publishing a book, why should you remove it from the Book Fair or shut down the [presenting] booth?”
Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ali Jannati, said on May 8 that all publishers are able to participate in the Book Fair this year. Stating that there were some 50 publishers who were banned from the Book Fair in 2012, Jannati added that no publishers were banned from this year’s book fair.
In an interview with Mehr News Agency, Homayoun Amirzadeh, Head of the Committee to Review Publishers’ Violations, said on May 7 that the reason for collecting a book of poems by Fatemeh Ekhtesari was that some of the poems in the book had been used as lyrics for songs by singers outside the country.
By “singers outside the country,” Amirzadeh was referring to German-based Iranian musician Shahin Najafi, who has produced music based on Fatemeh Ekhtesari’s poetry. However, Alireza Asadi, Head of Nimage Publishing, told the Mehr News Agency that none of the poems performed by Shahin Najafi are in the banned book. The publisher told Mehr that they are highly cognizant about observing the red lines.
Among the 29 booths shut down on May 10 were those of the Hayyan and Sobh-e-Farda publishers. Hayyan Publishers belongs to dissident blogger and former political prisoner Mehdi Khazali, and Sobh-e-Farda Publishers belongs to Ayatollah Mohammadreza Nekounam, who has been prosecuted by the Special Clerics Court, according to the Kaleme website.