Gerakbudaya founder shortlisted for 2020 IPA Prix Voltaire award that honours freedom to publish

Chong Ton Sin, previously a political activist, has been running Gerakbudaya since 2000.

Gerakbudaya founder Chong Ton Sin was shortlisted for the IPA Prix Voltaire this year (Photo: The Edge)

The International Publishers Association (IPA) stands for the promotion of literacy and reading. But more importantly, it seeks to defend freedom to publish as it’s a fundamental aspect of the human right to freedom of expression. 

This year, the association has shortlisted four remarkable publishers who put themselves at great risk to bring books they deem valuable to readers — and that includes our March cover personality Chong Ton Sin, founder of Gerakbudaya/SIRD Publishing House

Chong launched the publishing house in 2000 and an academic imprint SIRD in 2003, after spending many years of political activism and eight years in detention. At the time, Malaysia’s freedom of press — or lack thereof — was curbed by the government, which owned and controlled most media and publishing houses. Therefore, Chong decided to create a publishing house and distributor for controversial yet important books for Malaysians to read at affordable prices in all of our major languages.

A quick glance at the shelves at Gerakbudaya reveal recent books that capture our current times, including Clare Rewcastle-Brown’s The Sarawak Report on the 1MDB scandal, Anas Alam Faizli’s Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians, as well as engaging reads on the corruption behind illegal deforestation in the country. 


Gerakbudaya stocks books that reflect Malaysia's political and social climate (Photo: Gerakbudaya)

Other nominees of this year’s award includes Avesta Yayinlari (Publishing House, Turkey), Liberal Publishing House from Vietnam and Maktaba-e-Daniyal in Pakistan. The latter was famously known for being raided over the Urdu copies of 2008 satire A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif. The country’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, threatened the office manager and demanded the list of booksellers that distributed the book.

The IPA Freedom to Publish Committee (FtPC), comprising nine publishing professionals from Argentina, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Norway, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Turkey and the US, is responsible for picking the shortlist and winners. The award nominees make up of individuals, groups or organisations who defend the value of freedom to publish, despite pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment from various sources. 

Previous prize recipients include Egyptian Publisher Khaled Lotfy, Swedish Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai (2018),Turkish publisher Turhan Günay and publishing house Evrensel, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (2016) and Belarusian publisher Ihar Lohvinau (2014).


The award ceremony for the 2020 Prix Voltaire will be announced at the 33rd International Publishers Congress in Lillehammer, Norway, taking place from May 28 to 30. See here for more info. 


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