IPA and PEN America on the closure of the Lwin Oo Sarpay publishing house

The publishing house, Lwin Oo Sarpay, was shut down by the Myanmar junta, reportedly, for distributing a book from a Bloomsbury edition.

Morning traffic, November 23, 2021, in Monywa, Sagaing region of Myanmar. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Hale Irwin

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

Third publisher shutdown reported in recent weeks

IIn its June 1 report, the Burmese unit of Radio Free Asia reports that Lwin Oo Sarpay, a high-profile publishing house in Myanmar, was shut down by the junta “for importing and distributing a book on the genocide of 2017 Rohingyas” – and this report is based on information from Yangon’s state-controlled newspapers.

This attribution is significant. Radio Free Asia operates under an order of the United States Congress, operating to generate journalistic-quality reporting from free expression hotspots in China, Tibet, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and in Myanmar (the junta’s preferred version of the name rather than “Burma”). By basing its report on public media accounts, Radio Free Asia not only points to the source of its information, but what can be assumed is state pride in its reported actions against this publishing house. More information on the book in question below.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) worked with PEN America to issue a scathing condemnation of the action against Lwin Oo Sarpay.

The two agencies specify in their press release published on Tuesday June 7 that “two other publishing houses have been closed in recent weeks – Shwe Lat and Yan Aung Sarpay and the Win To Aung printing house – which also published books on sensitive themes, including LGBTQ+ content.

These actions bring the reported aggression from Yangon directly into the framework of concern and activism shared by the International Association of Publishers, with its annual Voltaire Award for bravery in publishing under often dangerous oppressive action, and PEN America , a leading national chapter associated with PEN International.

Many concerned global publishing professionals will welcome this joint commentary from PEN America and the IPA for its logic and ability to see both organizations’ efforts amplified through their respective broad global channels.

Einarsson: “To sow fear and encourage self-censorship”

Kristen Einarsson

Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA Committee on Freedom to Publish and Managing Director of the new World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer – is quoted, saying: “Suppressing these publishers is designed to sow fear and encourage self-censorship.

“We urge the junta to reverse these closures, renew publishing licenses, and allow these publishing and printing houses to reopen immediately and print and distribute books unimpeded.”

And Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Free Expression at Risk programs, said, “The closure of these publishing houses is a misuse of the legal system and outdated and restrictive laws to prosecute individuals and businesses for the production or dissemination of written content.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar

“Following the imposition of widespread censorship of media and online platforms immediately following the coup – including the arrest of dozens of influential journalists and online commentators – these developments are a prime example of the the junta’s strategy to stifle information that contradicts or challenges its own narrative, and appears to represent yet another attack on literary and creative content and a further closure of the space for free expression in Myanmar.

The Radio Free Asia report, written in English by Roseanne Gerin and translated by Khin Maung Nyane for Burmese consumption, says the Yangon army accused the publishing house, Lwin Oo Sarpay, of violating the article 8 of the “Law on Printing and Publishing”. which “imposes restrictions on the content of publications and websites managed by publishers and prohibits the importation or distribution of foreign publications containing prohibited content.

“In this case, the prohibited content was considered to be harmful to an ethnicity or between ethnicities.”

“The Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar” by Ronan Lee

The book that Lwin Oo Sarpay allegedly distributed is Myanmar Rohingya Genocide: Identity, History and Hate Speech by former Irish-Australian politician Ronan Lee. A former Member of Queensland State Parliament, Lee holds a PhD award from the Institute of Media and Creative Industries at Loughborough University in London. He received the Early Career Emerging Researcher Award from the International Association of Genocide Scholars in 2021.

Published on February 25, 2021 by Bloomsbury publisher IB Tauris, the book, according to the publisher’s promotional text, “compellingly adds to the body of evidence that the Myanmar government enabled genocide in the state. of Rakhine and its surroundings”.

In the book, Lee analyzes what he calls “the region’s largest forced migration from ‘Burma’ since World War II, with more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing Myanmar in terror for the relative safety of Bangladesh”.

The military’s 2017 “demining operation” of Rohingya communities, he writes, saw the Tatmadaw “raze to the ground hundreds of Rohingya villages, murder at least 9,000 Rohingya men and unleash a monstrous campaign of sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls. ”

In their joint message to the media, the International Association of Publishers and PEN America write: “Lwin Oo Sarpay publishing house’s license was revoked on May 28 for importing and distributing a book published overseas on Facebook .

“The junta charged the publisher with an alleged violation of a 1962 law banning the importation and distribution of foreign publications containing banned content – in this case, content that harmed an ethnic group or between ethnic groups.

In March, Anthony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, spoke in Washington Holocaust Museum after seeing the museum exhibit, Burma’s Path to Genocidewho also is available for you to experience in a digital format here. You can read comments made March 21 at the museum by Blinken, the US designation of Yangon’s actions as genocide, with Blinken saying, in part: “The evidence…points to a clear intent behind these mass atrocities – the intent to destroy the Rohingya, in whole or in part. And this, of course, is genocide.

“This intention was corroborated by accounts of soldiers who took part in the operation and then defected, such as one who said his commander told him to, and I quote, ‘shoot at every sight of a nobody’, end I quote – burning down villages, raping and killing women, orders he and his unit carried out.

In Tuesday’s post, PEN America highlights its major December report, Stolen Freedoms: Creative Expression, Historical Resistance, and the Myanmar Coup, the organisation’s second report on the situation in Burma. As the organization points out, the report includes information on “how private publishers could only publish a book after it had been approved by censors.

“Following the democratic reforms of 2012, the end of pre-publication censorship ushered in the emergence of new genres and types of books published in Myanmar. It ended abruptly in February 2021 with the military coup, and now Myanmar ranks third in PEN America’s Index 2021 of the worst jailers of writers in the world.


More information on Publishing Perspectives on the International Association of Publishers is here, more on PEN America is here, more on freedom of expression and freedom to publish is here, and more on the Burmese/Myanmar market is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Association of Publishers’s global media partner.

More from us on the The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is the editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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