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IPA condemns politically-motivated attacks on book publishers, bookshops in Athens, attempted firebombing of London-based publishing house

(IPA/IFEX) - The following is a joint IPA and International Booksellers Federation (IBF) press release:

Publishers and Booksellers condemn recent attacks on bookshops and publishing houses

Geneva, 1 October

The International Publishers Association (IPA) and the International Booksellers Federation (IBF) strongly condemn the recent series of attacks on publishing houses and publisher bookshops in Greece, resulting in the burning of thousands of books, and the UK with the attempted firebombing of publisher Gibson Square. Both IPA and IBF support freedom to publish without fear of attack or reprisal, and cannot accept attempts by any individual, group or government to censor through violence and intimidation those who write, publish or sell on any issue, be it on politics, culture or faith.

In June and July this year, there has been a series of politically-motivated attacks on book publishers and their bookshops in Athens. All of these attacks have seemingly resulted in the destruction of these establishments and the burning of tens of thousands of books.

In the UK, since 27 September, four people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of carrying out an arson attack on the offices of the London-based publishing house, Gibson Square, which is also the home of its head, Martin Rynja. The arrests occurred after a fire broke out in the building, requiring the evacuation of everyone inside. The attack may be linked to the publisher's plans to release on 30 October the first English language edition of a novel by US author, Sherry Jones, entitled "The Jewel of Medina". The book fictionalises the Prophet Mohamed's relationship with his favourite wife, Aisha. Gibson Square took on the publication in the UK, after a planned publication in the US was withdrawn.

The President of IBF, Karl Pus, declared: "Freedom of expression and freedom to publish are fundamental conditions for any democracy. These freedoms are prerequisites for an informed exchange of information, views and values among citizens. They constitute a right to inform, discuss, and criticize. Religious believers have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs [in that sense, freedom of religion is fundamental], but they cannot expect their religion to be set free from criticism. Similarly, the holders of a given political view cannot expect their political beliefs to be set free from criticism. Reciprocally, freedom of expression implies a right to contest and protest peacefully against any utterance that ones dislikes or feels insulted by. It goes without saying, violence, including fire bombings, should be banned in all circumstances".

Ana Maria Cabanellas, IPA President, added: "One must take these attacks very seriously, condemning them firmly and reminding all that at the very heart of freedom of expression and freedom to publish one has the right to debate openly and publicly different positions and views on political, religious or ethical matters, and to take opposing views. Governments should ensure that open debates, in particular about controversial issues, must take place in a non-violent form. To quote Heinrich Heine, "in a place where they burn books, they will end up burning human beings".

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