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Bangladeshi Publisher Wins US-based Award for Courage

A Bangladeshi activist sets up a light on a poster displaying a portrait of slain Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Feb. 27, 2015.
A Bangladeshi activist sets up a light on a poster displaying a portrait of slain Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Feb. 27, 2015.
Bangladeshi Publisher Wins US-based Award for Courage
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A publisher from Dhaka, Bangladesh received an award for courage from a group of American publishers.

This week, the Shuddhashar Publishing House received the 2016 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award from the Association of American Publishers International Freedom to Publish Committee (IFTPC).

The annual award is given to publishers outside the U.S. who have “demonstrated courage in the face of restrictions on freedom of expression.”

Shuddhashar is the publisher of mostly secular and scientific books. It received the award for producing books from writers facing threats and attacks by Islamic militants.

Awarded for courage

Mahbub Leelen is the co-founder of Shuddhashar Publishing House. He received the award at the PEN Literary Gala in New York City.

He said the award honors all the writers and publishers who have died for their work in Bangladesh.

Shuddhashar has published books by Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das. These two Bangladeshi-American writers were killed in Bangladesh by the militants last year.

Geoff Shandler is the Chairman of the IFTPC. He praised the publisher’s “courage to publish in the face of horrific threats of violence against yourself and your family - especially when your government is not only unwilling to help, but actually siding with the killers.”

Leelen told VOA the Freedom to Publish Award encourages “us to keep moving ahead" with "our mission.”

The government of Bangladesh did not comment on the publishing house winning the award. Efforts by VOA to reach Bangladeshi government officials for comment have been unsuccessful.

Secular and freethinking writers

Shuddhashar was started in Bangladesh in 2004. The publishing house became a place for progressive Bengali writers. It has been the starting point of careers for many writers.

Shuddhashar has published the first work of at least 1,000 writers. Today, Shuddhashar has more than 3,000 writers.

The Islamic militants began targeting the writers and activists in 2013. Shuddhashar Publishing House also began receiving threats.​

In 2015, a group of men with knives and guns attacked the office in Dhaka. One of the founders, Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul, was in the office along with two writers. They managed to escape with only injuries. On the same day, the attackers killed another publisher of secular books in Dhaka.

Co-founders Leelen, Tutul and Zafir Setu have fled Bangladesh in fear for their lives. They have left Shuddhashar closed in recent months. The closing is only temporary.

Tutul said, “Shuddhashar has not been closed permanently. Since we have still been receiving threats, for reasons related to the security of our employees, we have kept our regular work at the publishing house on hold.”

The publishers at Shuddhashar say they are in the process of publishing on the internet. Several e-book projects are currently being written.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Maaz Hussain wrote this story for VOA News. Jim Dresbach adapted this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

persecutionn. the act of treating someone cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs

secularadj. not spiritual - relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world

e-bookn. a book that is read on a computer or other electronic device