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Kuwait activists combat rise in banning of books

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By Agence France-Presse

In 2014, the Kuwaiti press hailed Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a literary “giant”. But since his death, the Colombian writer and a slew of others have been banned as censorship takes root in the Gulf state.

Kuwaitis gather outside parliament to protest against censorship that has resulted in many books from entering the country

Kuwaitis gather outside parliament to protest against censorship that has resulted in many books from entering the country (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

More than 4,000 books have been blacklisted by Kuwait’s information ministry over the past five years, according to local media reports, including Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

Dozens of writers and activists have taken to the streets — on September 1 and again two weeks later — to protest ahead of Kuwait’s annual book fair in mid-November.

Kuwaiti novelist Mays al-Othman is among the blacklisted writers, following the 2015 publication of her novel “The Wart,” the story of a woman raped during the 1990-1991 Iraqi occupation of the emirate.

“Censoring a book reflects a profound ignorance… and cruelty,” Othman told AFP. “And unfortunately it’s happening more and more.”

Literary ‘immorality’

All titles on show at Kuwait’s international book fair will be screened in advance by a censorship committee.

The committee works under a 2006 law on “press and publications”, which outlines a string of punishable offences for publishers of both literature and journalism.

On the list: insulting Islam or Kuwait’s judiciary, threatening national security, “inciting unrest” and committing “immoral” acts.

Mohammed al-Awash, a senior information ministry official, defended the censorship committee, which includes academics not affiliated with the ministry.

“Prohibition is an exception. Permission is the rule,” Awash told AFP.

But activists fear censorship floodgates are opening in a country once known for a relatively free press and that ranks as the only Gulf state with elected legislators.

Conservatives and tribal leaders have become dominant in parliament, reflecting the changing mood in society.

“The idea of content that could contradict good or moral behaviour is grounds for a ban — and it’s an extremely vague phrase,” said Talal al-Ramidhi, secretary general of the Kuwaiti Writers’ Union.

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