The OFAC clusterfac

Suppose you were born in a country that fell on bad times, into the hands of dictators. Suppose you and a few other dissidents raised your voice against the reign of tyrants, crackpots, torturers, architects of genocide. And suppose one of the few things you hoped is that your voices might be heard elsewhere.

According to the draft OFAC regulations, you would have been so wrong.

Scott Martelle from the LA Times writes:

“In an apparent reversal of decades of U.S. practice, recent federal Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations bar American companies from publishing works by dissident writers in countries under sanction unless they first obtain U.S. government approval.

The restriction, condemned by critics as a violation of the First Amendment, means that books and other works banned by some totalitarian regimes cannot be published freely in the United States….

The regulations seem shaded by Joseph Heller’s classic novel Catch-22. U.S. publishers are allowed to reissue, for example, Cuban communist propaganda or officially approved books but not original works by writers whom the Cuban government has stifled.”

The regulations would have covered writers in Iran, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea. Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi filed a lawsuit recently challenging the US government regulations. She was directly affected, as The Washington Post reports:

“Prohibiting her memoir because it might in some way aid Iran is exactly as if we’d prohibited Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” because it might have helped the Soviet Union.

This remarkable woman has a story to tell. It’s the story of an everyday working mother who studied her law briefs in a locked bathroom. It’s the story of a brave and harassed human rights advocate in a theocracy. But this is a story that cannot be told in Iran and cannot be sold in America.”

Reuters just reported that Ebadi’s lawsuit may have forced OFAC to back off.

“The United States eased a controversial ban on publications from Iran, Sudan and Cuba on Wednesday in a bid to allow dissidents to be heard while maintaining an embargo on official documents.

The rule change by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control comes after Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi sued the United States because its economic embargo on Iran blocked U.S. publication of her memoirs.”

This should make Laila breathe a little easier–but I think all of us are going to wait on judgement until we can scan the fine print.

3 comments

  1. “This new policy will ensure those dissident voices and others will be heard without undermining our sanctions policy,” Levey said.I’m encouraged by the change, but not by the comments. The emphasis on dissident voices suggests he believes the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to say/hear anything the U.S. government agrees with.

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