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François von Hurter

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The “Woche der Meinungsfreiheit” (Freedom of Expression Week) will take place between 3 (International Press Freedom Day) and 10 May (anniversary of the book burnings) 2024. This is an initiative put together by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, the recently founded Freedom of Expression Foundation and the Frankfurter Agenturallianz.

The aim of the campaign week is to provide important impetus for the socio-political debate in Germany and to emphasise the importance of freedom of expression and lively debate for a democratic society.

Every year, people from over 100 countries come together at Frankfurter Buchmesse. As part of the "Freedom of Expression Week", we focus on the perspectives of international members of the publishing industry.

What does freedom of expression mean to you personally? What do you think is the biggest challenge to freedom of expression? What can publishers from around the world do to promote freedom of expression?

In cooperation with the IPA (International Publishers Association), we put these questions to colleagues from India, Turkey, Spain, Italy, the UK, Canada and the USA and brought them together here.

François von Hurter, Publisher, Bitter Lemon Press, UK

Association What does freedom of expression mean to you personally?

The right to communicate thoughts and opinions verbally, in writing and indeed in print without fear of punishment or censorship by governing authorities. As a publisher of fiction sometimes set in countries with authoritarian or near-authoritarian regimes (e.g. Russia or India today or Argentina and Cuba in the recent past), this should apply to works of fiction, as well as political essays or history. It is understood this is not an absolute right but is limited by respect for other people's ethnicity, religion, and culture. Whether state security should be added to this list is debatable and the subject of the Bitter Lemon Press’s espionage trilogy "The Discipline Files" by James Wolff.

What do you perceive as the greatest challenge to freedom of expression?

Fear. The fear of punishment of authors (even those writing abroad) or of their families who have not emigrated leads to widespread self-censorship. We have seen drafts of novels heavily redacted by their authors when it becomes evident that they would be putting loved ones at risk if the books were published as first written. This self-censorship is perhaps more pernicious than the burning of books or creating lists of banned works.

What can publishers around the world do to promote freedom of expression?

When asked by authors, we should publish books (even of fiction) that take political risks. Books that are willing to take on subjects that authorities would prefer to be left well alone. This can apply to the ultra-nationalism of authoritarian regimes today or to historical events like the assassination of political opponents or the persecution of Roma people in now-democratic countries.

About François von Hurter

François von Hurter is the co-founder of Bitter Lemon Press which he launched in 2004. Bitter Lemon Press has published over 110 books, mostly translated crime and noir fiction, but also fiction written in English, by American, English and Indian authors. Born to a Swiss father and a Greek mother, he was raised in Geneva, studying law, business and theology at different points in his life.

About the Freedom of Expression Week

Now in its fourth year, the "Freedom of Expression Week" programme promotes the expression of opinion and lively debate for a democratic society. This year's programme includes more than 60 events throughout Germany. 

Further information on the programme and the Freedom of Expression Week Charter can be found here.(opens in a new window)