The American Library Association and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) are natural collaborators during this week. AIUSA highlights and represents individuals across the globe that face persecution, censorship and imprisonment as a result of their exercise of free speech. Sometimes the authors, journalists and activists themselves are “banned” in essence, through corrupt processes.
This year, AIUSA is highlighting six cases during ALA’s Banned Books Week. Librarians can go to their BBW site and find resources including toolkits, bookmarks and information on how the public can help spread awareness and take action.
Two of the six featured cases involve a publisher and fiction writer persecuted for their published and unpublished works.
Publisher, Hong Kong
Lai was arrested in August of 2020 for “collusion with a foreign country or external elements” for his work as the publisher of a prominent pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily. He is currently serving 20 months in prison. The national security law he allegedly violated took effect on June 30 just weeks before his arrest. Police also raided the Apple Daily headquarters. Hong Kong’s government is cracking down on collaboration with what they consider to be “foriegn forces,” according to an AIUSA press release, which includes participating in activities such as peaceful protests and being critical of government policies.
The press release goes on to quote Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, “The arrest of Jimmy Lai for allegedly ‘colluding with foreign powers’ is a disturbing demonstration of how the Hong Kong authorities intend to use the new national security law to threaten press freedom.”
Bequelin called for the authorities to drop all charges against Lai and the six others arrested for violation of the national security law and cease harassment of those journalists in Hong Kong. Apple Daily, the only pro-democracy print paper in Hong Kong was forced to close in June 2021 as a result of the arrests.
Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee
Fiction Writer, Iran
In 2014, Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested both Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee and her husband, activist Arash Sadeghi at his palace of work in Tehran. Guards took the two back to their home where they raided the couple’s possessions and found Iraee’s unpublished fiction story about a young woman who burns the Qur’an after being deeply affected by the movie The Stoning of Soraya M, about a young woman stoned to death for adultery.
Iraee’s husband, Sadeghi, is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for a variety of charges against the Iranian government including “spreading propaganda against the system,” according to AIUSA.
In 2015, Iraee was sentenced to six years in prison as a result of her unpublished work. In 2017, while on prison leave awaiting judicial review, Iraee was arrested on the way to visit Sadeghi who was ill in the hospital.
In a 2017 press release, Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International called for Iraee’s release. “The Iranian authorities must put an end to all attempts to penalize the peaceful activities of Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee and Arash Sadeghi in defence of human rights, immediately and unconditionally release them and ensure that their unjust convictions are quashed without further delay.”
For more information on all six cases and more ways to get involved, see AIUSA’s Banned Books Week site.
AIUSA has a variety of resources available for community events and libraries:
Jacqui Higgins-Dailey worked as a public librarian for 10 years before becoming full-time residential library faculty at Glendale Community College in Arizona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Chico and a masters in library science from the University of North Texas. She is passionate about information literacy instruction and loves to read, write, hike and travel.