BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Ministry of Culture has revived regulations forbidding the import of some books, prompting critics to accuse it of restoring Saddam-era censorship.
The ministry has begun requiring publishers to submit lists of titles for approval, said Deputy Culture Minister Taher al-Humoud. He said the rules were based on law dating from the era of former dictator Saddam Hussein, ousted in 2003.
Humoud said the ban was on books glorifying violent jihad and martyrdom, which are typically imported from neighboring countries.
“All books are allowed except those that incite sectarian grudges,” he said.
“Books that carry Takfiri fatwas against either sect (Sunni or Shi’ite Muslim), and the bloodshed they cause, are not permitted,” he said, referring to Islamic legal decrees.
The move has angered groups like the Society to Defend the Freedom of the Press, which issued a statement this week complaining of a “return to a totalitarian regime.”
“The society stresses that imposing such censorship is a termination of the freedom of expression and thought acquired after April 9, 2003,” a statement from the society said, referring to the date Baghdad fell to invading U.S. forces.
Under Saddam, heavy censorship of books was the rule. State propaganda dominated the media, glorifying the government and demonizing enemies like the United States and Iran.
Saddam himself published several novels. Each of them was, unsurprisingly, a best-seller in Iraq and came out to enthusiastic reviews from Baathist literary critics.
Iraq’s 2005 constitution enshrines freedom of press and publication unless they “violate public order or morality.”
“This is not freedom of expression. This is freedom of destruction,” Humoud said.
He said no books had been turned away since last month, but pointed to a case a year and a half ago which prompted the ministry to begin applying the rule anew.
In that instance, authorities at Baghdad international airport blocked the entry of a book entitled ‘The Lover’ — referring not to romantic love but love of jihad.
As the raging violence of the last six years has ebbed, Iraqis have begun to enjoy a cultural revival, attending reopened theatres or enjoying singers who now dare to hold concerts.
But Iraqi media is dominated by party-backed publications and there is little investigative journalism. More than 100 journalists have been killed since 2003, and self-censorship is more common than government censorship.
Editing by Mohammed Abbas and Missy Ryan