The awarding of the 2021 IPA Prix Voltaire and a Freedom to Publish Seminar were highlights of the IPA’s presence at this year’s Guadalajara Book Fair.
The 2021 IPA Prix Voltaire laureate, Dar Al Jadeed publishing house, was announced on 22 November and then awarded at an emotional ceremony on 30 November at this year’s Guadalajara Book Fair. On 3 February 2021, the co-founder of the publishing house, Lokman Slim, was brutally murdered in Beirut because of his fearless investigations into Lebanese history, especially the killings and atrocities of the country’s conflict-laden past, and his refusal to be silenced by a campaign of threats and intimidation.
His sister and co-founder of Dar Al Jadeed, Rasha Al Ameer, came to Guadalajara to accept the award on behalf of her brother and the publishing house. In an emotional speech, before over 200 people in the Juan Rulfo auditorium of the Guadalajara Book Fair, Al Ameer said that the award would bring hope to many: By honouring Lokman and Lebanon, the International Publishers Association sends a clear message to the [Lebanese] people who think that the free world has lost its ethical compass. The Prix Voltaire is saying to the two victims [Lokman and Lebanon]: ‘you are not alone. The Prix Voltaire and what it represents is watching and listening, and will not be intimidated by the monsters: Lokman will not be forgotten, his projects should continue and the Lebanon that shares his values of accountability, transparency and justice should exist.’
In a keynote speech during the Prix Voltaire ceremony, Mexican journalist and Univisión news anchor, Jorge Ramos, said: Freedom is teamwork. For every writer and journalist, we need a courageous publisher and editor willing to sacrifice his job, and sometimes his life, so that we can read a controversial book or get the news without censorship. Publishers and journalists should always say no to censorship. That doesn’t mean that we should publish everything that gets into our email. Our job is precisely to identify what is news and what is worth publishing, and what is not. Governments should never have a say in what we do. Referring to both Rasha Al Ameer and Lokman Slim, Ramos concluded: Thanks to you, people like me can speak freely today. I do not exaggerate by saying that we are here because of your courage and that of your brother Lokman. You have all my admiration and respect.
Earlier that day, Rasha Al Ameer had also participated in an IPA Freedom to Publish Seminar entitled, ‘The different shades of Censorship: From government pressure, to libel threats and self-censorship’. Al Ameer was joined on stage by Jerónimo Pimentel, Director General, Penguin Random House Perú; Sergio Ramírez, exiled Nicaraguan author and winner of the 2017 Premio Cervantes; Gvantsa Jobava, member of the IPA’s Executive and Freedom to Publish Committees; and Raúl Figueroa Sarti, founder of the Guatemalan publisher F&G Editores, winner of this year’s Jerry Laber award for freedom to publish and one of five publishers shortlisted for this year’s Prix Voltaire.
Moderated by Mayra González, literary director of Penguin Random House México, the seminar explored the evolving challenges to freedom of expression and the freedom to publish in the Latin American region and around the world. They discussed how different types of pressure – whether directly from governments, or through expensive defamation and libel cases, or through social media — combine to silence authors and to lead everyone in the book sector to self-censor.
In a related development, José Ignacio Echeverría, President of the IPA regional member, the Grupo Ibero-americano de Editores (GIE), had announced the formation of a freedom to publish committee and had also encouraged his members (the majority of publishers association in Latin America as well as Spain and Portugal) to set up their own national FtP committees.