Five-strong shortlist revealed for the 2023 IPA Prix Voltaire
Prix Voltaire nominees are publishers – individuals, groups or organisations – who have published controversial works amid pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment, be it from governments, other authorities or private interests.
Following a session at The London Book Fair dedicated to strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs), and the role of publishers in guaranteeing freedom of expression of authors, the IPA announced the five-strong shortlist from Egypt, Iraq, Ireland, Pakistan and Turkey.
In 2005, the IPA created the Freedom to Publish Prize to honour a person or organisation judged to have made a significant contribution to the defence and promotion of freedom to publish in the world.
In 2016, the prize was renamed the IPA Prix Voltaire, in tribute to the French philosopher and writer François-Marie Arouet (penname Voltaire), who propounded a doctrine of tolerance and free expression before the terms were in general use.
The IPA Prix Voltaire, which comes with a CHF 10,000 prize, is made possible by generous contributions from sponsors, all of which are publishing houses and organisations that share the values that the IPA Prix Voltaire recognizes: Albert Bonniers Förlag (Sweden); Bonnier Media Deutschland (Germany); Holtzbrinck (Germany); Penguin Random House; Norstedts (Sweden); Samlaget (Norway), and Verlag C. H. Beck (Germany).
The laureate will be announced at the World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer, Norway on Monday 22 April.
Mazen Lateef Ali, Iraq
Mazen Lateef first became involved in the book business as a student buying and selling books on Al-Mutanabi Street in Baghdad, Iraq.
In 2007 he established the publishing house Dar Mesopotamia for Printing, Publishing and Distribution, and became an established and respected member of the cultural community in Iraq.
He published a range of books including many about the Jewish communities and individuals of Iraq. On 31 January 2020 he was kidnapped at gunpoint with no news of his whereabouts since.
Günışığı Kitaplığı Publishing House, Turkey
Founded in 1996, Günışığı Kitaplığı (“Sunshine Library”) specialises in contemporary literature books for children and young adults.
In the last decade, a number of the publisher’s books have been removed from school reading lists, subjected to concerted social media pressure, banned from sale on online platforms and at book fairs, and declared “obscene” by the Board for the Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications.
They are currently fighting 7 separate cases of effective bans on books considered ‘harmful to minors’.
Mehr Husain, Pakistan
Mehr Husain is a journalist, editor, author and publisher. She is the founder of ZUKA Books, established following Pakistan’s ban on books from India.
A sole voice that lobbied the government to help local authors at a time, she set up ZUKA Books which aimed to create a cultural disruption by speaking up for the freedom of creative expression, gender equality and inclusive publishing.
ZUKA Books published books that are the first of their kind in Pakistan and have generated a national dialogue focusing on female inclusivity and empowerment. In 2021 ZUKA Books co-founded Ananke Women In Literature Festival which focuses on female voices in South Asia and the MENA region.
Ahmed Mahmoud Ibrahim Ahmed, Egypt
Ahmed Mahmoud Ibrahim Ahmed is a young author, photographer, and co-Founder of Kotopia, an Egyptian Publishing House, established in 2016 and dedicated to publishing books in different genres.
Ahmed was arrested in Saudi Arabia during Riyadh International Bookfair in October 2022 without justification. He was subsequently released and returned to Egypt on 5 March 2023.
Mercier Press, Ireland
Mercier Press was founded in 1944 by Captain Seán and Mary Feehan, as they believed in the importance of Ireland’s ability to provide accessible histories and cultural books for all who are interested in Irish life.
Mercier challenged Catholic dogma which dominated Irish society, as well as censorship in Ireland, publishing books like Marriage Partnership (which had to be sold under the counter), and went on to publish a range of titles on previously undiscussed matters such as drug abuse, domestic violence, the sexual revolution, women’s rights and clerical sexual abuse.
Mercier continue to publish controversial books – including titles like One Day in My Life by Bobby Sands; The SAS in Ireland by Raymond Murray; Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland by Anne Cadwallader and Burnt Out: How the Troubles Began by Michael McCann.