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Bangladeshi Publisher of Works by Secular Authors Honored with US Prize

BenarNews Staff
Washington, D.C.
2016-05-17
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160517-BD-Leelen-Rushdie-1000.jpg
Mahbub Leelen (right), co-founder of the Shuddhashar Publishing House, which published the works of slain secular Bangladeshi writers Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, poses with novelist Salman Rushdie at the PEN Literary Gala dinner in New York, May 16, 2016.
Courtesy of Mahbub Leelen

Updated at 4:35 p.m. ET on 2016-05-17

A Bangladeshi publisher of secular books and works by slain writers, which was attacked by suspected Islamic extremists last year, has been recognized with an award for courage from the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

The Shuddhashar Publishing House on Monday night received the 2016 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award at the PEN Literary Gala dinner in New York. The award recognizes book publishers outside the United States "who have demonstrated courage in the face of political persecution," according to the AAP website.

“We would like to dedicate this award to all writers and publishers who died for their activities,” Shuddhashar co-founder Mahbub Leelen told BenarNews.

“We believe that this is an achievement of all of Shuddhashar’s writers. This achievement will encourage us to continue our publications in this very bad situation,” he said.

In 2004 Leelen and two colleagues – Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury Tutul and Zafir Setu – started Shuddhashar, a platform for secular thinkers writing in Bengali. But since 2013, six secular bloggers and writers have been killed in machete attacks by Muslim extremists.

Shuddhashar had published the works of two of the victims, Bangladeshi-born U.S. citizen Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das.

Leelen, Tutul and Setu fled Bangladesh after suspected radicals launched twin attacks on two publishing houses in Dhaka on Oct. 31. Tutul was seriously injured and Faisal Arefin Dipan, head of the Jagriti Publishing House, which had also printed the works of secular writers, was killed.

“[T]his is not just an award. Rather, it is a symbol which indicates that other writers, publishers and international humanitarian organizations are with Bangladeshi writers in the same battle for freedom of expression,” said Leelen, who is seeking asylum in the United States.

Although Leelen and his colleagues had to shutter their offices in Dhaka, they intend to keep disseminating the works of secular writers by publishing e-books while in exile, he added.

The Jeri Laber award is given annually by AAP’s International Freedom to Publish Committee.

“We’re proud to support these courageous publishers. The message of the Jeri Laber Prize is loud and clear: You are not alone. We hope this international recognition pushes the  government of  Bangladesh to do whatever is needed  to end the violence against authors, publishers and  journalists,” Judith Platt, director of Free Expression Advocacy at the Association of American Publishers, told BenarNews.

This version of the story corrects Mahbub Leelen's name.

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