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A Vietnamese publishing house operating underground and only established a little over a year ago has won the Prix Voltaire, the International Publishing Association’s (IPA) freedom to publish prize.  Liberal Publishing House (LPH) was awarded the honour by Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, in an online ceremony on 3 June.  Einarsson said: “The work of Liberal Publishing House in Vietnam as guerrilla publishers, making books available in a climate of intimidation and risk for their own personal safety is nothing short of inspirational. The international publishing community recognizes their bravery and will support them however we can.”

Founded in February 2019, LPH is a non-profit organization established by a group of domestic activists in Saigon, Vietnam in a direct challenge to the Vietnamese government’s control of the publishing industry.  The publishing house has to carry out its work secretly due to the government’s crackdown on what it considers ‘anti-state’ activity.  The house is dedicated to bringing dissident voices to the nation’s readers.  Publications critical of the government or the state are banned by the government.

In a recorded video message, Liberal Publishing House’s spokesperson Pham Doan Trang, a Vietnamese author and journalist, said: “Freedom of expression is an indisputable, universal right, and it is an indispensable element that enhances a society economically, intellectually and morally.  In Vietnam, freedom of expression, as well as academic freedom, have yet to be achieved….”

She continued: “The men and women who work for Liberal Publishing House every day risk their safety, their freedom and even their lives altogether just to publish books. The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but it represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, who have been arrested and interrogated simply for reading our books.

Amnesty International’s Vietnam campaign team points out that the police have questioned and at times detained nearly 100 people for either owning or reading books printed by Liberal Publishing House. The IPA said that despite harassment and intimidation attempts, this year’s Prix Voltaire winner continues to operate under dangerous conditions, to give hope to the Vietnamese people that any opinion, whether deemed favourable by the government or not, can benefit from the protection of freedom of expression. The IPA “recognizes the importance of LPH’s contribution to this important message and congratulates the laureate for its exemplary dedication and courage”.

Liberal Publishing House is currently the only independent publishing house in Vietnam.  In the spirit of “liberal education and freedom of information”, LPH’s primary activities include publishing books free of government censorship, and printing and distributing them through either sale or free public giveaways.  It produces both hard and electronic copies and has slowly expanded its distribution network to cover the entire country.

It has self- funded its own equipment and machinery and after twelve months of operation, it now owns two print shops, with each producing approximately 100 books a day. Within eighteen months of operation, LPH has distributed more than 25,000 copies of 18 titles to readers both in and outside Vietnam.

Trang concluded her message with these words: “In many other countries in the world freedom of expression is still bring supressed and I send my solidarity to all of those who walk this path.”