NGOs stage sit-in against censorship

A number of political activists staged a sit-in to demonstrate against Kuwait’s censorship policies. The protest took place outside the venue of the annual book exhibition, that is ongoing at the Mishref fairgrounds on Saturday. The demonstration termed ‘the scissor’ was organized by several Non-Government Organizations(NGOs), and was attended by representatives of Liberals and human rights activists, including MP Ali Al-Rashid.

The keynote speaker Dr Ebtihal Al-Khatib, a Kuwait University teacher and member of several human and women rights organization , said that censorship is aimed at keeping the society uninformed, so as to be able to exercise
easy control over it. “Those at the helm of the censorship board impose all kinds of taboos whether political, religious and social. Here words are considered shameful, sinful and wrong. While the word itself cannot be wrong or sinful, suppressing it is the wrong and sinful thing to do,” Al-Khatib said.

The demonstrators issued a press release which were jointly signed by 24 NGOs that demanded the censorship laws applied on books and book exhibitions be revoked. The said NGOs argue that during the first three book exhibitions, no censorship was applied, “We did not witness any collapse in the social or moral structure of the society.” The press release reads, adding more arguments to push forward the necessity to revoke censorship.  Censorship is becoming meaningless in the information and high speed communication age. It also places a burden on publishing houses to apply censorship of their own in order to avoid bans which lowers the quality of printed books.

Participants also stated that censorship contradicts rights guaranteed by the Kuwaiti Constitution by eliminating, prohibiting, cancelling and confiscating the rights and desires of people. It also promotes and protects ignorance.

In a symbolic gesture, the participants threw scissors into trash cans.

At the 34th book exhibition, publishers’ rage was not any less apparent than the demonstrators who protested outside. Although, they disagreed on the degrees of censorship applied on them, publishers almost unanimously, said that the censorship measures applied during the Kuwait book exhibition are the most stringent among GCC countries, and one of the toughest in the Arab world. Some publishers said, “Many of the books banned in Kuwait are allowed to be displayed in UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and even KSA,” one of the publishers told Kuwait Times. He explained that a royal decree was passed in Saudi Arabia to allow all types books to be displayed during the book exhibition, except for those that incite sectarian hatred, and raise controversial religious debates.

All the publishers spoke to Kuwait Times requested anonymity fearing an impending ban on their companies that may prevent them from participating in upcoming exhibits.

One publisher told the Kuwait Times that almost 60 percent of his books were banned from the exhibitions. He said that some publishers did not attend the exhibition because the books that were allowed to be displayed would not help cover their expenses.

Another publisher pointed out at another impact that censorship has had on his business. He said, “We have to submit all the books that we intend to showcase at the exhibition three or four months prior to the exhibition’s commencement.

Based on that, they inform me about the books that are banned. But sometimes, there are many books which are published during this period. When the exhibition does take place, these books will be the most recent, and sometimes the most wanted. We cannot bring them because of the lack of approval, even if the book does not contain any offensive material. Other publishers criticized the criteria according to which books are banned. One publisher illustrated the example of an Arabic writer’s work that was a collection of several stories. However, it was banned only because of one story. Another publisher said that if any writer writes a book that is considered offensive, his name will be blacklisted. His books will be permanently banned, even if at he has written something that is completely contradictory.

According to one publisher, some writers who only have a limited number of books to their collection, are allowed a grace period of one year, and the next year it will be banned, “And this procedure is non-reversible, once anything is banned, that’s it. It doesn’t change,” he said. Many publishers expressed their disappointment at Kuwait’s censorship policy, especially when Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti media enjoy considerable amount of freedom of speech.

Visitors were divided over the censorship issue. An senior citizen told Kuwait Times that censorship is required and essential. “There might be books that are harmful for kids, or books that offend our culture or religion,” he said. The woman who accompanied him was searching for books by a Saudi novelist that were banned. She disagreed by saying “I don’t think that in books there’s anything offensive or damaging in this novelist’s work.

Another publishers told Kuwait Times that one customer accompanying by his wife was browsing for some cookery books. He went on to say that that man flew into a fit of rage when he saw a recipe that contains pork. “How can they allow these things?” the customer said. The publisher added. “I pretended to be a visitor browsing for some books. I didn’t want to argue with him because it would be useless. I mean there’s no pork available in Kuwait to begin with. People will substitute it with beef instead. What is all this fuss about?” he questioned.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply