Kuwait’s National Assembly yesterday voted to change the 2006 publications law on media and publications that required all books to have prior approval, resulting in the ban of more than 4,500 books:

As parliamentary observer Abdulla Khonaini wrote yesterday on Twitter, this means that books will no longer be subject to a required prior censorship, although they can still be challenged in court on a case-by-case basis.

This change has been the result of the work of many authors and activists, including — as Kuwaiti novelist Layla AlAmmar commented on Twitter — Khonaini, novelist and bookseller Bothaina al-Essa, and Hind Francis.

AlAmmar, who wrote about the problems of Kuwaiti censorship for ArabLit in 2018, said what’s important about this law is that banning is no longer the default position:

Now, according to the government news agency, importers will be required to provide a list of authors and titles to the Ministry of Information, but without submitting the books to a committee and waiting on approval. Thus, “The importer, alone, bears the sole legal responsibility for the ideas and opinions expressed in this publication, according to the amended article.”

Khonaini added that there is still a long way to go, in moving toward the free exchange of books, and that, “What happened today is a very small step in a much longer journey.”

There are still questions about the thousands of books that have been banned — some seemingly on a whim — in the 14 years that law has been in force. As AlAmmar asked on Twitter, “Question though, what happens with the 4500+ books that are already banned? Do they remain so or automatically lifted?”

According to news reports, forty-nine lawmakers were reportedly in attendance; forty approved the change and nine voted against.

Also read Layla AlAmmar’s: Book Banning in Kuwait: How, Why, & What Comes Next

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