Nobel Laureate Sues U.S. Over Ban
Embargo Blocks Memoirs Of Iranian Rights Activist And Winner of
By JESS BRAVIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 1, 2004; Page A9
When Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, President
Bush congratulated the Iranian lawyer and children's advocate
for "her lifetime championing human rights and democracy."
When Ms. Ebadi sought to publish her memoirs in the U.S., she was
startled to discover that doing so would be illegal, under a trade
embargo intended to punish repressive governments such as the regime
in Tehran that once sent her to jail.
Last week, Ms. Ebadi and her American literary agency, the Strothman
Agency of Boston, sued the Treasury Department, which enforces the
sanctions, in Manhattan federal district court. The suit says the
regulations ignore congressional directives to exempt information
and creative works from the trade sanctions, and more broadly
violate the First Amendment rights of Americans to read what they
wish. The restrictions "seem to defy the values the United States
promotes throughout the world, which always include free expression
and the free exchange of ideas," Ms. Ebadi says in an affidavit
filed with the suit.
Although the regulations allow the government to grant exceptions to
the embargo, Ms. Ebadi hasn't applied for one. The suit contends the
rules for exceptions are too vague and that in any case it is
unconstitutional to let the government decide whether an author may
publish in the U.S.
The Treasury Department declined to comment on Ms. Ebadi's suit, but
spokeswoman Molly Millerwise defended the regulations as "part of
the different strategies that make up our national-security
policies." The U.S. has 29 sanctions programs in place against
various countries, terrorist groups and others considered national-
security threats, although the restrictions challenged by Ms. Ebadi
apply only to Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Ironically, the way the Treasury
Department interprets the trade embargo, Ms. Ebadi would have been
free to publish a translation of her book in the U.S. had it
originally been issued in Iran. The regulations allow publishers
to "reproduce, translate, style and copy-edit" existing works from
sanctioned countries, according to a department fact sheet. But they
prohibit providing "services" to people or entities in embargoed
countries, such as the type of editorial, marketing and translation
work needed to publish an original book in the U.S. In a March
letter to the Treasury Department, Rep. Howard Berman, the
California Democrat who wrote legislation excepting information from
the embargo, called the policy "patently absurd."
Ms. Ebadi, 57 years old, says in her affidavit that she wants to
write specifically for an American audience, offering them "a
greater understanding of Iranian society and of the determination of
one woman to seek justice in a society in which it is difficult for
women to achieve influence in public affairs."
"I would not write such a book for publication in Iran right now,"
she says. "I want it to express my own ideas, not ideas that receive
official approval." She adds that although she speaks some English,
she lacks the fluency to write a book in the language and would need
assistance in translating from her native Farsi. "A book written for
American readers would be very different from a book written for
publication in my own country," she says, "and my writing may have
to be reconstructed, both to answer questions Americans would expect
to be addressed and to sound comfortable to American ears."
Such an endeavor would require close collaboration with an agent,
editor and perhaps a co-writer in the U.S. -- services her attorneys
advise are prohibited without a government license.
The lawsuit is the second during recent months to target the
regulations. In September, the American Association of University
Presses, of New York, and other organizations filed in Manhattan
federal court, claiming that publishers had been forced to suspend
several projects because their authors were nationals of embargoed
Many of the works impeded by the regulations involve Cuban authors.
According to the university press association, suspended or
cancelled publications include a book on Cuban archaeology to be
published by the University of Alabama Press, a Cornell University
Press edition of "Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba" and
an "Encyclopedia of Cuban Music" from Temple University Press. "The
PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature" also is
threatened, says the PEN American Center, a writers group currently
headed by Salman Rushdie, the novelist who was condemned for
blasphemy by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The PEN center is among the plaintiffs in the September suit, which
is expected to be heard along with the Ebadi case by District Judge
Although the trade embargoes trace their origin to World War I's
Trading with the Enemy Act and the 1977 International Emergency
Economic Powers Act, the current disputes arise from recent rulings
by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which
administers the sanctions. In September 2003, responding to a
scholarly society's query about publishing an article by an Iranian
author, the office said that various tasks involved in publishing an
original book in the U.S., such as "marketing, distribution,
artistic, advertising and other services [are] not exempt" from the
embargo. That raised concerns among publishers who potentially faced
imprisonment and fines for violating the sanctions, and led to the
Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@...
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