The Jiří Theiner Award Supported Iranian Authors Fighting for Freedom


The award named after Jiří Theiner, exile editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship, who translated the works of Klíma, Havel or Vaculík to English in 1970s and 1980s, is an integral part of Book World Prague. The fair hosts the award ceremony every year in the presence of the initiator of this prestigious award, Pavel Theiner, son of Jiří Theiner. 

The venue stays the same but the status of the Award changed. "For ten years, it was awarded to laureates who contributed to promoting Czech literature abroad. But the world is changing, unfortunately in many places for the worse, and we considered it important to draw attention to places where autocracy threatens freedom of speech," said Radovan Auer, Director of Book World Prague, when explaining the reason for the change which took place last year. 

"Last year the Award went to Ukrainian authors and this year we want to draw attention to what is happening in Iran. Which is why we decided to give the award to Iranian artists, writers and publishers fighting the local regime," added Radovan Auer. The ceremony was joined by SHIRIN ­EBADI, Iranian activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, by means of a pre-recorded toast. She recalled the history of the fight for freedom in Iran and the role of women in it. 

"Iranian women gained the right to vote in 1961 and even won seats in the Parliament before Swiss women. But then in 1979 the Islamic revolution took place and the fight for equality began," recounted Shirin Ebadi. She mentioned repression, imprisonment, executions and, last but not least, the event that stirred Iranian society in recent months when a young girl was killed by government agents just because her hair was visible. It was this brutality that sparked a wave of defiance in Iran. 

"The youth are aware that they have no future with this government," added Shirin Ebadi. Her speech was followed by a pair of guests and representatives of Iranian artists, TINOUSH NAZMJOU, a Paris-based publisher publishing exiled and censored Iranian authors, and MAHDIYEH SADRNEZHAD, an actress and supporter of the freedom movement in Iran who also lives in Paris.

"I decided to start the publishing house to help authors who can't publish their works or face censorship in Iran. Although an exile publishing house is nothing new in Iranian history. Our country is volatile and the tradition of publishing such books is centuries old. We simply continue in it," explained Tinoush Nazmjou. 

Mahdiyeh shared her life story and the reason why she decided to emigrate from Iran with the visitors. "I was an actress and I always felt pressure from the regime, but it gradually escalated to such an extent that it was no longer possible to work in such conditions. Then in 2019, when fifteen hundred people were killed, it was the last straw for me. I decided that I could not live in such a country and emigrated," she explained. As she began to talk about the events of the last few months when thousands of people ended up in prisons for simply speaking out, for trying to live a normal life, when Iranian women were raped and blinded and gas was used in schools for girls, she was overcome with tears. It was a very emotional moment.

"I felt that I had to do something. I live in freedom, I can be the voice of the oppressed, I can speak for them, and so through my profession, through protests, I can influence society, help the world learn about what is happening in Iran." Both guests concluded by agreeing that change in Iran is inevitable but unfortunately it is still a long shot.