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Writers with roots in Iran seek ways to share their books back home

The members of this particular online book club spent zero time talking about literature per se, instead focusing on how to smuggle banned writings into Iran.

Prospective readers, the members said, should not have to worry about authorities in the Islamic Republic obtaining their personal information. They should have the freedom to choose what books they want to read.

“I’m worried that if people send us their address so that we mail the books, it’ll get leaked to authorities,” one man based in Canada recently told the 10-member group in Persian.

For months, the group, which includes writers and translators living in self-exile from Iran as well as others still living there, has sought ways to ensure its members’ voices are heard in the motherland. Others eager to distribute writings on topics that are forbidden by Iran’s leaders include the head of a London-based clandestine publishing operation and novelists in the diaspora running online classes covering everything from the basics to painful memoirs.

The challenge is that Iran tightly regulates the publication of books and has a strict system of censorship. Several topics are strictly off-limits, such as sex, alcohol and criticism of Islam or the Islamic Republic.

Those who publish, sell or distribute banned books face arrest and imprisonment if caught. And people who are found promoting ideas from them also face prosecution.

The country has seemed ripe for criticism during the past year or longer for reasons including its status as a coronavirus hot spot in the Middle East, a fragile economy, concerns about nuclear capabilities, a crackdown on social media posts and mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 aboard.

The publication rules, according

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