(16 April 2014, New York, NY) Dr. Thant Thaw Kaung, who has played a leading role in keeping books and literary life alive in Myanmar under an authoritarian regime, has been chosen as the 2014 recipient of the “Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award.” The award is given annually by the Association of American Publishers International Freedom to Publish Committee (IFTPC).
Dr. Thant is a tireless advocate for the country’s libraries.
For the first time since its creation in 2002, the Jeri Laber Award will be presented during BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s largest annual conference, held next month in at the Javits Center, New York. The presentation will take place at the Book and Author Breakfast event, Saturday, 31 May.
The Award recognizes a book publisher outside of the US who has demonstrated courage and fortitude in the face of restrictions on freedom of expression.
Although trained as a physician, Dr. Thant Thaw Kaung practiced medicine only briefly before founding the Myanmar Book Center, the country’s leading book importer and distributor, in 1996. The Center provides books and educational materials to more than 98 percent of the libraries, schools and universities in Myanmar. For much of its existence, the company’s operations were carried on under the close watch of government censors and on more than one occasion, had to pull its books off store shelves under threat from the military regime.
He is Executive Director of the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, arranging book donations from overseas donors to more than 800 libraries in the country. As a director of the Seattle-based Nargis Library Recovery Foundation, he has coordinated the digitization of traditional and rare Myanmar manuscripts for online preservation and is helping rebuild libraries in Myanmar destroyed by Cyclone Nargis. Through his work with the Myanmar Library Foundation, he promotes reading and training programs for librarians.
Since the installation of a civilian government in 2011, reforms in Myanmar such as the abolition of the government censorship board have produced cautious optimism that for the first time since 1962, books and periodicals can be published and read freely. Upon learning that he was the recipient of this year’s Jeri Laber Prize, Dr. Thant said, “One can understand the value of freedom to publish only when he or she is under a repressive and authoritative system.”
The Jeri Laber Award is named in honor of one of the founding members of the IFTPC and the Committee’s professional adviser for more than 30 years. She was a founder of Helsinki Watch, which ultimately became Human Rights Watch, and its executive director from 1979 to 1995. She is also the author of a memoir, The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age with the Human Rights Movement.
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