Paulo Coelho’s books are banned in Iran
I was informed two days ago by someone I know in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Iran (unfortunately I cannot disclose the person’s name for their security) that they have an order to ban all of Paulo Coelho’s books in Iran, and no books having Paulo Coelho’s name on them as their author will be authorized to be published in Iran any more. I was told that they have been ordered to contact the publishers that have published Paulo Coelho’s works and have ask them to return the prepublication permissions to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Iran. This is despite the fact that all of these titles have previously received permission to publish from the same Ministry.
Last year, after the Presidential Election in Iran and my testimony on the circumstances of Neda Agha Soltan’s murder, I had to leave Iran for my own security, and shortly after, Caravan Books, the only official publisher of Paulo Coelho, at which I was the managing director, was shut down by the order of the Ministry of Culture. They did not even approve the new managing director of Caravan Books, and therefore Caravan has gone defunct, just because I bore witness to a horrible crime, committed by the pro-government militia.
Now it seems that Paulo Coelho is paying the price of speaking up about me in that incident. He was one of the first people who identified me in that heart-breaking video, trying to save the young woman’s life. After shutting down Caravan Books, now it seems that the government of Iran is turning against Paulo Coelho’s books.
Paulo has already commented on this issue in his blog and I really hope that the Ministry of Culture reconsiders, for the sake of millions of readers of Paulo Coelho in Iran.
Practicing censorship is happening on a day-to-day basis inside the Minsitry of Culture of Iran. The intriguing fact is that, despite such fierce controls over the printed and online media, the IRI has always denied practising any kind of censorship, especially pre-publication, for books. The implementation of such complex system, aiming to ensure that no unfavoured idea has a chance to reach the public and in the meantime leaving no concrete evidence of such practises, has made it difficult for organisations advocating freedom of expression to create a clear case against these prohibitions, which are also in direct opposition to Iran’s international obligations as a member of the UN and a signatory and state party to the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ (ICCPR) that obliges state parties to enforce freedom of expression asserted in Article 19 of the UDHR.
Prepress or pre-publication censorship is not a new concept. However, today Iran is one of the few countries left that still enforces it. No printer is permitted to print a book without first verifying that the book has obtained a Prepublication Permission (PPP). When the publishers decide to publish a book, they have to commission the translation (if necessary), copy-editing, typesetting, cover design and proofreading and then submit it in the final press-quality PDF format to the Book Department of the Minsitry of Culture and Islamic Guidance MCIG. The publishers are responsible for paying all these origination costs even before they know whether they will receive a PPP for the book.
In the next step, the censors scrutinise the book. If they find no problems, they issue a PPP. If they find some problems, they inform the publisher about modifications needed to be made—on a piece of paper with neither a letterhead, nor a signature. The publisher has to make the changes and resubmit the book. If it is decided that the book does not ‘deserve to be published’ at all, they declare their decision to the publisher verbally, with no written documents involved.
The decisions of the scrutinisers are not always consistent and depend largely on the taste and individual interpretation of each scrutiniser whose names are never revealed, as ‘otherwise no scrutiniser would be available to work’ (FARDA, 2008).
Any reference to sex, heresy, feminism, supporting religions other than Shiite Islam, mystic or exotic beliefs or even religions such as Buddhism, criticising the government of the IRI, a historical account not compatible with the officially approved history, relationships outside wed-lock, nudity (even in books on history of art), pigs, dogs, alcoholic drinks, defending western democracies and non-orthodox Islamic studies, may be subject to censorship.
Another possible reaction from the MCIG is no response at all (Article 19, 2006). There are books that have been submitted to the Book Department for months and even years with no response from the department, the only answer to the publishers’ queries being ‘the scrutiniser has not yet declared his decision.’
Another recent trend has been issuing provisional PPPs that authorise the titles to be printed only once and not reprinted, unless the validity of the permission is extended. This strategy seems to account for keeping the number of new titles published in Iran at a favourable level that enables the government to claim that statistically the number of titles published in Iran is higher than several other countries, and at the same time keeping the number of the readers of certain books to a minimum.
Another possibility is revoking previously issued permissions. The PPPs of hundreds of already published books were revoked by Ahmadinejad’s administration, the pretext being, according to Safar Harandi, the Minister of Culture, that a tougher line was needed to stop publishers from serving a ‘poisoned dish to the young generation’(Tait, 2006a).