FRANKFURT–Germany (Reuters)-The world’s largest book fair opened on Tuesday with an impassioned plea for human rights–but a Turkish writer was barred from flying in to collect a special "Freedom to Publish" award.
"The right to freedom of speech is still gravely endangered in many countries around the world," German Publishers Association President Gerhard Kurtze told journalists at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
"Many hundreds of publishers and booksellers–writers and journalists are prevented from carrying out their profession–are intimidated by threats and run the risk of prison and torture," he said.
The Fair–celebrating its 50th anniversary as the biggest international market place for publishers–was to have given an award to Istanbul-based writer Ayse Nur Zarakoglu.
But the International Publishers Association announced at the fair’s opening in a statement: "It is with deep concern and sadness that we were informed that the Turkish authorities were preventing Mrs. Ayse Nur Zarakoglu from leaving the country."
The association–which groups publishers from 65 countries–said it "is urging the Turkish government to reconsider its decision and allow her to receive the deserved award."
Zarakoglu has several pending court cases against her for books she has written on human rights. She told Reuters that her passport had expired and that police had deliberately delayed the procedure for two weeks to prevent her obtaining a new one.
"One shouldn’t be surprised by this–people don’t have a right to life in Turkey–I don’t have my passport–it’s not that important," she said.
Turkish authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Zarakoglu was found guilty last year of insulting the security forces by translating into Turkish a US human rights report in which a US diplomat was quoted as criticizing police strongarm tactics against Kurdish rebels. She was fined a negligible amount.
The Frankfurt Book Fair each year accounts for 75 percent of all the rights deals concluded by publishers. This year it has attracted almost 6,800 from 107 countries.
One in four have electronic products to show–but the fair’s organizers argue that the book is far from dead in the new age of the information superhighway.
They point to the vast international expansion of online book sales as a welcome shot in the arm for publishing.
"The oldest medium in the world–the book–has the highest growth rate for sales using the youngest medium–the Internet," Kurtze said.
He estimated that online book sales in Germany were per capita even higher than they were in the United States.
But he did single out one major cloud on the horizon when he appealed to the European Commission in Brussels not to overturn Austria and Germany’s system of cross-border price fixing.
"No nation should be deprived of the right to self-determination and development in the key area of culture–namely in literature and language–thanks to bureaucratic and irrelevant decisions taken in Brussels," he said.
Britain has freed up market competition with the abolition of its Net Book Agreement but the Germans argue that the abolition of price fixing would sound the death knell for their industry.