Amid controversy and split opinions, the International Publishers Association (IPA) has accepted China as a new member and voted to give Full Member status to Saudi Arabia.
At its General Assembly, held at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week, the IPA accepted China, alongside Bangladesh, Greece, Jordan and Peru, as new members, and voted Full Member status to Saudi Arabia, Slovenia and Tunisia.
The well-attended meeting is understood to have seen its membership severely split on the decisions concerning China and Saudi Arabia, with Germany particularly opposed to the moves on account of the countries' records on censorship and human rights. However others argued that engagement would produce a better result than non-engagement.
The decisions were carried by a vote, with each member country having an equal tally of two votes.
All members must sign up in support of the principle of freedom to publish.
IPA president Richard Charkin said: "Putting aside one's political views, if you're called the IPA, it's great to have that spread of different continents and sizes – it's important small countries are in, as well as big ones. Publishers hold very strong views and expressed them, which shows the strength of international publishing – that we can exchange strong views openly and in the end come to a democratic decision."
He added: "We were pleased that both the Saudi Publishers Association and the Publishers Association of China were able to make presentations in person to the executive committee."
On Friday (16th October), English PEN launched a campaign for free speech and human rights in Saudi Arabia, called "We Are Raif", after the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes after encouraging debate about religion and politics in the country. The campaign is supported by a coalition of organisations including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Free Raif UK, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Hope Not Hate, Index On Censorship, the Jimmy Wales Foundation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and One Law for All.