Światowy Dzień Książki 2024

W obliczu rosnącej cenzury musimy stawić czoła tyranii tych, którzy starają się uciszyć głosy sprzeciwu i prawdy. Zakazując wydawania książek władze próbują zdusić istotę wolności, musimy jednak pozostać nieugięci. Literatura jest naszą tarczą przeciwko uciskowi, latarnią dającą odpór ciemności.

– Burhan Sonmez, prezes PEN International

23 kwietnia 2024: W Światowym Dniu Książki PEN International i centra PEN na całym świecie potępiają szerzące się niepokojąco zakazy publikacji książek, w tym na Białorusi, w Brazylii, Chinach, na Węgrzech, w Federacji Rosyjskiej, Turcji i USA, gdzie władze próbują stłumić sprzeciw i krytykę cenzurując literaturę, prześladując pisarzy i uciszając niewygodne prawdy.

Wojna, cenzura i prześladowania: PEN International Case List 2023/2024 notuje powtarzające się w wielu miejscach wzorce i strategie stosowane przez rządy w celu zakazania książek, cenzurowania autorów i blokowania publikacji, czytania i dystrybucji ich dzieł.

PEN’s global community condemns book bans around the world

“In the face of rising censorship, we must confront the tyranny of those who seek to silence the voices of dissent and truth. Through book bans, authorities attempt to suffocate the essence of freedom, but we must stand firm. Let literature be our shield against oppression, a beacon of resilience in the darkness.” Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President

23 April 2024: On World Book Day, PEN International and its Centres denounce the alarming surge in book bans worldwide, including Belarus, Brazil, China, Hungary, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and the USA, where authorities are attempting to stifle dissent and criticism by censoring literature, persecuting writers, and suppressing inconvenient truths.

War, Censorship and Persecution: PEN International Case List 2023/2024, highlights the recurring patterns and strategies used by  governments to ban books,  censor authors and prevent the publication, reading and distribution of their works. 

In Belarus, authoritieshave for decades asserted the dominance of the Russian language, intensifying their stigmatisation and repression of Belarusian language and literature following the Russian Federation launch of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. PEN Belarus documented scores of independent publishing houses shut down in 2023 for promoting books by Belarusian writers and in the Belarusian language. Notably, Nobel Prize in Literature laureate and former President of PEN Belarus, Svetlana Alexievich, saw her books withdrawn from libraries across the country in June 2023, after her name and books were removed from the school curriculum in August 2021. 

In Brazil, instances of book censorship have sparked concern. In April 2023, the University of Rio Verde in Goiás, removed Marçal Aquino’s  Eu recebia as piores notícias dos seus lindos lábios (Your Beautiful Lips Would Give Me the Worst News) from its compulsory reading list without providing a reason. This decision followed criticism from an extreme right-wing deputy who alleged pornographic content in the book. Similarly, in November 2023, the governor of Santa Catarina ordered the removal of nine literary books by non-Brazilian writers from state public institution libraries. The banned books include: The Chemistry Between Us, by Larry Young and Brian Alexander; Satanic Heart, by William Hjortsberg; and Donnie Darko, by Richard Kelly, among others. In March 2024, O Avesso da Pele by Jefferson Tenorio, addressing racism, faced bans in schools across three states, allegedly for underlying racism within the school systems and authorities.

In China, PEN International has been closely monitoring the troubling trend of book removals from Hong Kong’s public library system following the implantation of the National Security Law (NSL). Since the NSL’s imposition in June 2020, books, including those by pro-democracy figures like Joshua Wong, have been targeted for review and removal. In July 2021, a librarian was suspended after displaying books by imprisoned media publisher and writer, Jimmy Lai, who is currently on trial under the NSL. In November 2021, local authorities reportedly had a list of over 70 books “found” to violate the NSL, though local media documented over 100 removed titles. This trend accelerated during a library collection audit, with complaints about NSL violations leading to further book removals. An investigation by Ming Pao in May 2023 found that 40% of politically themed items available in public libraries before the NSL were removed (195 out of 468 titles included in its survey), while Photon Media found that of only three out of 149 titles related to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre remain available. Notable titles that were removed include Louisa Lim’s People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. Despite public interest, authorities have refused to publicly disclose the number of books removed, citing concerns that it would lead to further dissemination of the banned material. The Hong Kong government’s use of the NSL to suppress critical expression is a violation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the internationally protected right to freedom of expression.

In Hungary, Líra Könyv, the country’s second-largest bookstore chain, was fined HUF12 million (approximately USD36,000) in July 2023 for including a LGBTI graphic novel series in its youth literature section, and for failing to comply with the 2021 ‘child protection’ law’s requirement for closed packaging.

Similarly, in the Russian Federation, a December 2022 law banning ‘LGBT propaganda’ among adults, led to the withdrawal of  content featuring LGBTI themes from bookstores and cinemas throughout 2023 – a trend that continues unabated.

In Türkiye, the authorities increased their influence on the media and publishing, resulting in a rise in books branded ‘obscene’ and vilified by pro-government media. In November 2022, the Karşıyaka High Court upheld “Izmir No. 3 T Type Closed Prison’’ disciplinary board to confiscate Aslı Erdoğan’s book Not Even the Silence Belongs to You Anymore. The book was confiscated on the grounds of defaming the Turkish state, military, and police, spreading terror propaganda, and offending the Turkish nation. Imprisoned Kurdish poet erdAgronhad his handwritten translation of Erdoğan’s novel The City in Crimson Cloak confiscated by prison authorities in 2023. In January 2023, two books by writer and PEN member Murat Kahraman, Bitmeyen Veda and Çığlık (Scream) were banned from publication, distribution, and sale, and promptly confiscated. Later in March, an Istanbul court ruled that Rüyası Bölünenler (Dream Divided) by Yavuz Ekinci included content amounting to ‘terrorist propaganda’ and banned its publication, distribution, and sale, confiscating copies. 

In the USA, during the first half of this school year alone (July to December 2023), PEN America recorded 4,349 instances of book bans across 23 states and 52 public school districts, surpassing previous years. These bans target books addressing sexual violence, LGBTQ narratives, and race-related themes. This surge in censorship coincides with a global rise in authoritarianism, with groups and politicians in the USA exerting significant influence to promote discriminatory censorship in education, eroding free expression and human rights and restricting young people’s right to read and learn. Of particular concern is the discriminatory nature of these bans, often justified within the context of 'cancel culture’ or ‘parents rights.’ However, resistance is mounting, with students staging walkouts, parents mobilizing support, and legislators introducing bills against book bans. PEN International and PEN America welcome the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education’s upcoming country visit to the USA from 29 April to 10 May 2024 to examine these issues up close, and encourage national leaders and media to pay attention to her findings.

PEN International and its Centres urge the authorities across the world, and specifically in Belarus, Brazil, China, Hungary, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and the USA, to cease book bans and uphold freedom of expression. Access to diverse literature, thought and opinion is a fundamental right that must be respected by governments worldwide.

Note to editors:

For more information, please contact Alicia Quiñones, Head of the Americas Region, at PEN International, email: alicia.quinones@pen-international.org

For media queries please contact Sabrina Tucci, PEN International Communications and Campaigns Manager, Sabrina.Tucci@pen-international.org