April 7, 2017
Kidnapped publisher Gui Minhai will receive the Jeri Laber Award
by Ian Dreiblatt
For more than a year, we’ve been following the case of the Causeway Bay Booksellers, five men who went missing in 2015, and were, months later, revealed to be in the custody of law enforcement officials in the People’s Republic of China. All five were linked in various ways to a Hong Kong bookstore and publishing company that offer pulpy, often shakily-sourced biographies of Chinese Communist Party leaders. The kidnappings came as a surprise: under what is known as the “One country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong is formally a part of the PRC, but is not generally subject to its laws — including its notorious restrictions on press and media freedoms.
As we reported last June, four of the five original detainees have now been released, leaving only Swedish citizen Gui Minhai in custody. (While PRC authorities have made other arrests of publishing professionals in the meantime, Gui’s case remains outstanding for the duration of his detention and his being a foreign national, who had been doing apparently legal business in Hong Kong, and who seems to have been abducted by Chinese authorities in Thailand.)
In some slightly better news, the Association of American Publishers announced last week that it will present the Jeri Laber Award to Gui later this month. The award, which recognizes “a book publisher outside the United States who has demonstrated courage in the face of restrictions on freedom of expression,” will be presented at the PEN Literary Gala on April 25th in New York City. It is given by the AAP’s International Freedom to Publish Committee, and will be accepted by Gui’s daughter Angela, who has been a fierce advocate on his behalf.
The award has been granted since 2002. Previous recipients have included Indonesian publisher Joesoef Isak, Bangladesh’s Shuddhashar publishing house, and Russian publisher Irina Balakhanova. Iran’s independent publishing community declined the prize, seemingly for fear of official reprisal, in 2007, and it was instead accepted by Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who was herself forced into exile a few years later.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.