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Works of poet Mahmoud Darwish banned in wide-ranging censorship at Saudi book fair

Men examine a book during a book fair in Riyadh on 5 March 2014
Men examine a book during a book fair in Riyadh on 5 March 2014

REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

On 13 March 2014, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information's decision to ban certain works from being displayed at the Riyadh International Book Fair 2014 drew condemnation from the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

The stall designated for the Arab Network for Research and Publishing, a leading Saudi publishing house, was closed down and the works of the late poet Mahmoud Darwish, one of the Arab world's most prominent poets, were removed from the fair.

The censoring process began when the fair's management decided to relocate some of the stalls meant for some prominent publishers like, Dar AlSaqi, Madarek Publishing House, and the Arab Network for Research and Publishing, to another area because they were identified as publishing some of the most controversial, intellectual and political books.

On 7 March, however, the fair's management completely shut down the Arab Network Research Publishing's stall without notifying the publisher. According to Nawaf Al-Quadimi, a co-founder of the publishing house, they kept all the books and banned the publisher from participating in the fair ever again.

Mahmoud Darwish's poems were confiscated on 12 March allegedly after an objection was made by some young men who belong to the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) to what they described as blasphemous phrases in the poet's work.

What took place at the fair contradicts the management's claims that "the fair bears in mind the satisfaction of all parties with different intellectual and cultural approaches", said ANHRI. "Such incidents shackle freedom of expression and opinion and destroy the fair's self-proclaimed motto: The book …a bridge connecting civilizations."

ANHRI calls on the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information along with the board of the Riyadh International Book Fair to discontinue their practices of censorship.

It also calls on the board to respect the commitment to criteria that had been set earlier for the publishing houses. "Censorship and the removal of books from the fair will not prevent Saudi citizens from reading those publications, particularly in light of the presence of the Internet," stated ANHRI.

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