A group of writers and rights and cultural activists yesterday demanded that the Bangla Academy immediately withdraw its decision of banning Shrabon Prokashani from the Amar Ekushey book fair for the next two years.
At a demonstration before the Academy, they also urged the government to suspend the director general of the academy for “making the illegal decision” and vowed to continue the protest until the academy revoked its decision.
On November 10, the Bangla Academy authorities decided that it won't allow Shrabon Prokashani to participate in the book fair “for taking a stance against the Academy's action” during this year's book fair, an official said on Monday.
Robin Ahsan, the owner of Shrabon Prokashani, alleged that the DG made the “unjustified” decision in retaliation for his protest at the arrest of another publisher.
He said he came to know the decision on Monday when his manager went to the academy to collect a form to apply for a stall in the book fair, scheduled to start on February 1.
Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer, told the demonstration that the Bangla Academy operated under a law and that the DG had no legal authority to ban any book or any publication house. “It will be deemed illegal if they do so. The director general did it by force.”
Rights activist Khushi Kabir said that someone's personal interest could not be the basis of such a decision.
The DG's job is to carry out administrative and development work of the academy and that he cannot ban any publisher, she noted.
Singer and cultural activist Kafil Ahmed said the Bangla Academy must immediately withdraw its “illegal decision”.
Terming the ban an “attack” on free-thinkers, Jamshed Anwar Tapan, general secretary of Udichi, said they would continue the protest until the government met their demand.
Sharifuzzaman Sharif, the general secretary of Nagorik Sanghati, said the DG made the decision out of personal vengeance as well as to please extremists. “So we demand his dismissal.”
When asked, one member of Bangla Academy said the decision was made because of Shrabon Prokashani's stance against the academy.
“There's nothing personal here,” the member claimed.
Four other members said they could not remember if any such decision was made and that they needed to check before making any comments. A sixth member said he was not aware of the decision as he was not present at the meeting.
Bangla Academy Director General Prof Shamsuzzaman Khan, also chief of the executive council, said they had every right to take such actions against any publisher.
“The decision was made [against Shrabon] for its stance against the fair, not for any personal vengeance,” he added.
“He [Robin] actually wants to foil the book fair. He is doing it as part of a certain quarter,” he claimed.
During this year's book fair in February, the academy closed down Ba-Dwip Prakashan's stall for selling a book that “hurt religious sentiments”. Later, law enforcers arrested three people, including the editor of the book.
At the time, Robin took a stance so that the book could still be sold at the fair, Jalal Ahmed, a director of Bangla Academy, told.
The academy's executive council was of the opinion that his stance went against the “greater interest of the fair", he added.
Replying to a question, Jalal said if Robin submitted an application seeking review of the decision, the council would discuss it.
Contacted, Robin said he did nothing about the sale of the book and that he along with others had only protested the way Shamsuzzoha Manik, editor of the book, was arrested.
He said Bangla Academy “banned” his publishing house for condemning Manik's arrest in a TV talk show, and for demanding his release at a rally organized by his friends at Shahbagh.
"Now, the authorities of the Bangla Academy are trying to instigate fundamentalists against me," Robin said, but the DG denied this.