Saudi authorities have reportedly banned 10,000 copies of 420 books because they were deemed threatening to the conservative kingdom.
The works included publications by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who is widely considered one of the greatest Arab poets.
Organisers of the Riyadh International Book Fair were coerced into withdrawing Darwish’s poetry following protests against “blasphemous passages” from the kingdom’s notorious religious police, AFP reported.
Other books removed from the fair included works by Iraq’s most famous modern poet, Badr Shaker Al Sayyab, another Iraqi poet, Abdul Wahab Al Bayati, Palestinian poet Muin Bseiso and books by Azmi Bishara, a former Arab MP who fled Israel in 2007 and is now close to authorities in Qatar, Saudi website Sabq.org reported.
Activist Aziza Yousuf told AFP the crackdown had offered “free advertising to those whose books were banned” as many “rushed to download these works from the internet”.
A few days after the fair opened, Saudi authorities also closed the Arab Network for Research and Publishing stall headed by Islamist publisher Nawaf Al Qudaimi and confiscated all his publications, citing threats to the kingdom’s security.
Organisers of the book fair, which ran March 4-14, had announced ahead of the event that any book deemed “against Islam” or “undermining security” in the kingdom would be confiscated.
The religious police frequently intervene to enforce strict conservative Islamic values, but the move to ban so many works was seen as unprecedented.
Last week it was reported that 50 baby names considered blasphemous had been banned in the kingdom.
The Civil Affairs Department later denied the report but conceded baby names “that are impermissible according to religious decrees” and that are “socially inappropriate” would not be registered on birth certificates.