Palestinian Authority Attorney General Ahmad Barak announced on Monday that he was banning the distribution of a new novel on the grounds that it contained “indecent texts and terms that threaten morality and public decency, which could affect the population, in particular minors.”
The book, Crime in Ramallah by Abbad Yahya, reportedly contains explicit sexual content, including masturbation.
The attorney general’s office stated that all copies of the novel would be seized because the book “breaches both international treaties and Palestinian press and publication ordinance.”
In addition, the novel violates the law of child protection which bans any written or visual publications that addresses the child’s instincts and make children like inappropriate behaviors which violate public decencies.
Barak insisted that the ban “does not violate freedom of opinion and expression.”
Yahya, the author of three previous books, told the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on Tuesday that he had been summoned for questioning and that his editor was arrested on Monday before being interrogated and released the following day.
“What shocks me is the speed with which this decision was taken and the arrest of the editor,” Yahya said, adding that he doubted that authorities had read the whole book.
He wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday that copies of his book had also been seized and burned in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the terrorist group Hamas.
Yahya has received support from elsewhere in the PA government, however; Culture Minister Ehab Bseiso wrote on his Facebook page that he wanted to read the book.
The Palestinian Authority’s record on human rights and freedom of expression has frequently been criticized by international observers. In August, Human Rights Watch condemned the treatment of journalists by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, stating that their tactics led to a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in the Palestinian territories. “Both Palestinian governments, operating independently, have apparently arrived at similar methods of harassment, intimidation and physical abuse of anyone who dares criticize them,” Sari Bashi, HRW’s Israel/Palestine director, said at the time.
A survey released by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms in 2014 found that “80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.” A poll published that same year by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 70 percent of Palestinians did not feel that they could criticize the PA.