May 24, 2012

Book censorship continues in post-revolutionary Tunisia


Farah Samti at Tunisia Live reports that rather than being wiped out, literary censorship has ‘simply changed forms’ since the country’s revolution. Before, books seen as harmful to the regime of Ben Ali were stopped, without further explanation, at the airport. Now, notes bookseller Adel Hajji, the censorship has a different focus:

Now, it is a religion-based type of censorship. Since the revolution, we had not faced any problems when importing books. But when we imported Moi, Mohamed, Esclave Moderne (Me, Mohamed, a Modern Slave) by Mohamed Kemigue, all copies were taken by the Ministry of the Interior for about a week, before they were delivered back to us.

And, as Michael Orthofer has also noted, this new censorship is more indirect. Abdessatar Zaafrani, a Tunisian lawyer, noted that the country had never had a specific censorship law:

The most common way of forcing censorship is hiding behind excuses that the book could disturb public order, or that it is against our culture and faith… The judiciary system plays a crucial role when it comes to literary censorship. If it is to be proven that a book could harm or misrepresent a person or a culture, a judge should be the one to make the decision of censoring it and not other authorities.

Less widespread but more insidious censorship is a far cry from the widespread demands for freedom of thought that helped to spark the revolution. Sad news.

Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.