By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
More than 100 Iranian writers, poets, and translators have called for an end to book censorship. The call was made in an open letter published on December 2 on the Pendar website that calls for an end to the requirement that writers obtain authorization from the Culture Ministry before publishing.
"Iran is one of the rare countries in the beginning of the 21st century where authors have to ask for a license from the state in order to publish their books, even though the requirement is not stated in the constitution," the letter says.
The needed authorization is increasingly difficult to obtain, according to writers and publishers, who say censorship has intensified in the Islamic republic in recent years.
The group of intellectuals -- some based inside and some outside Iran -- includes prominent poet Simin Behbahani and writer Mohammad Ghaed.
In the letter, they write, "Iran is one of the rare countries in the beginning of the 21st century where authors have to ask for a license from the state in order to publish their books, even though the requirement is not stated in the constitution."
The letter says increased censorship in Iran has led to a decrease in the number of books that are being published.
It goes on to say, "In reality, this method amounts to hostage taking of freedom of expression, creativity, and the livelihood of writers by the government in order to impose its ideas on the authors."
Writer and poet Farkhondeh Hajizadeh, a signatory, told RFE/RL Radio Farda broadcaster Mohammad Zarghami that the situation had led to self-censorship among writers and publishers.
Currently the publishers have turned into censors because if their books have issues, it is considered negative for them. Only two pages of my last book got a license for publication. We've all turned into censors in a world where nothing remains secret. Those who are censors have no understanding for books. It's also worth noting that fortunately some of the censors have become writers.
In recent years, there have been reports of increased pressure on writers and independent publishers, who are regularly accused of being subversive and serving the "soft war" that Iran says its enemies have launched to bring down the Islamic establishment.
The call for an end to book censorship is likely to fall on deaf ears among Iranian authorities who are openly supportive of censorship.
Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini has been quoted as saying that censoring books is not an obstacle but a necessity.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has spoken against books with "hidden political motives."
"Not all books are necessarily good and not all of them are unharmful. Some books are harmful," he was quoted as saying in 2011.
Khamenei added that those responsible in the book industry should not let "harmful books" enter the country's book market.
Copyright (c) 2012 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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