United States of Freedom

IImagine if Boris Pasternak had had to ask for a special license to publish Doctor Zhivago. Stop imagining, says, this article by Scott Martelle, because that is exactly what’s happening right now.

The effect of the recent OFAC rules prohibiting the publication of work by writers from countries under U.S. sanctions means, quite simply, that the United States is no longer a haven of free speech. If even a Nobel laureate like Sherin Ebadi can’t publish her memoirs, what hope is there for smaller, unknown writers from countries like Cuba?

Violations carry severe reprisals publishing houses can be fined $1 million and individual violators face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“Historically, the United States has served as a megaphone for dissidents from other countries,” said Ed Davis of New York, a lawyer leading the PEN legal challenge. “Now we’re not able to hear from dissidents.”

Yet more than dissident voices are affected.

The regulations already have led publishers to scrap plans for volumes on Cuban architecture and birds, and publishers complain that the rules threaten the intellectual breadth and independence of academic journals.

What’s more, even if publishers somehow obtain a license, they will be unable to advertise the book, leaving readers in a position where they have to be the ones to seek out a given volume. The official response to this? “These are countries that pose serious threat to the United States” and “The licensing is an important part of the sanctions policy.”

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