The International Publishers Association announced today that the 2019 Prix Voltaire, which “supports defenders of freedom to publish,” will go to imprisoned Egyptian publisher Khaled Lutfi:
The award is set to be presented on June 21, 2019, at the Seoul International Book Fair.
Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said in a prepared statement that the world publishing community “stands with Khaled Lutfi,” adding that, “We must support Lutfi’s fellow publishers in Egypt so that his imprisonment does not lead to fear and self-censorship in a country of such rich literary heritage.”
The IPA Secretary General, José Borghino, called on Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to grant Lutfi a pardon.
Lutfi, who founded Cairo’s Tanmia Bookshop and Publishing in 2011, was sentenced to five years in military prison this February on charges of “divulging military secrets” and “spreading rumors.” At issue was his plan to publish an Egyptian edition of the Arabic translation of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Uri Bar-Joseph. An Arabic translation had already appeared from Arab Scientific Publishers in Lebanon, and there is also a film based on the book, The Angel, which is available on Netflix MENA.
According to Human Rights Watch, Egyptian authorities “continue to prosecute thousands of civilians before military courts.” In March, Egyptian actor Amr Waked said a military court had sentenced him, in absentia, to eight years in prison.
The book at the center of Lutfi’s case is about Ashraf Marwan (1944-2007), an Egyptian billionaire and son-in-law of Gamal Abdel Nasser who is alleged to have spied on Egypt for Israel. Egyptian officials have denied that Marwan was a spy.
The Prix Voltaire comes with a CHF 10,000 monetary award. According to organizers, “The IPA Prix Voltaire is unique in honouring the freedom to publish,” without which, they note, “many forms of freedom of expression would be impossible.” They add that: “Publishers who provide authors with the tools to disseminate their written ideas assume the same risks as the writers themselves.”
The organization named a shortlist of five last month. Others shortlisted were NB Publishers in South Africa; Azadeh Parsapour, who works between Iran and the UK; Tekin Publishing House in Turkey; and Moe Way / The Eras in Myanmar.