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Culture Ministry confiscates book following criticisms

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said today that it is strongly concerned with the decision of the Syrian Ministry of Culture to confiscate a book entitled "Syria in the Russian flights during the nineteenth century". The book was published at the beginning of April 2009 by the General Syrian Book Organization. It deals with the impressions of a number of Russian citizens who visited Syria or have resided in it in the mid-19th century, including doctors, diplomats, travellers, poets and those interested in history and archaeology.

Although the two translators of the book have clearly indicated in the introduction that "there are different motives behind writing these impressions, since some were objective with regard to giving judgments" and others "did not have enough information and thus adopted a sterile approach far from the truth, ignoring the hardship of research and reasoning". The translators also stated that they chose to include some offensive and hateful passages since they are of the opinion that the deletion of these passages would be misleading to the reader and embellish the text, which is equivalent to a breach of trust. However, this did not prevent the storm of charges raised against the book alleging that it had tarnished the image of Syria and its citizens. As a result of these criticisms the Syrian Ministry of Culture rushed to withdraw the copies which it had distributed to cultural centers, and denied anyone the possession of the book.

Gamal Eid, Executive Director of ANHRI, said that, "The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed for all, and freedom of criticism is the essence of this right, we do not condemn those who engage in criticism, but we are rather disturbed by the governments' exploitation of authorities to outweigh particular points of view, and confiscate creative and intellectual work."

Mahmoud Abdel-Wahed Shaye', General Manager of the General Book Organization, published a comment in "al-Watan Syrian" newspaper regarding the criticisms of the book. His comment was an explicit apology for the publication of the book, and laid blame on his predecessors who had decided to publish the book.

Gamal Eid added, "It is a real tragedy to see such persistence in the Arab region on what might be called the nationalization of knowledge and culture, which leads to deterioration of freedoms and promotes dogmatism and backwardness. It seems that the Syrian government decided to take advantage of the experience of its Egyptian counterparts in the suppression of freedom of thought and the confiscation of books issued by governmental bodies, just as what happened in Egypt last year, when 'Ibda'a' Magazine, issued by the General Egyptian Book Organization, was confiscated."

It seems that the Syrian government, after burying political freedoms, and straining civil society activists with besieging, imprisonment and torture, will pay more attention in the future to the confiscation of intellectual and creative work.

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