Freedom may be on the march, but freedom of speech is under the boot. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury recently issued regulations that forbid American companies from publishing works by certain foreign authors without first getting permission. If the authors are from countries that the U.S. has targeted for sanctions, a license would be required to publish their work in the U.S. unless it has been previously published in the country of origin. Ironically, the result of these regulations would allow writings that were appproved by the author’s repressive native government, but prohibit writings that criticized it, because a repressive regime would be unlikely to publish such work.
Violators in the U.S. face penalties of up to $1 million dollars and 10 years in prison. The regulation is being contested legislatively by Rep. Howard Berman of California, and several weeks ago, Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (above) filed suit after discovering that publishing her memoirs in the U.S. would be illegal. Other litigants include the PEN America Center and Arcade Publishing.
The absurdity of silencing the very voices that represent the best of American values is disturbing, to say the least. Compounding that is the frightening notion that any American publisher must seek permission from a federal agency to exercise what should be guaranteed under the first amendment’s freedom of speech.