Kuwaitis protest over government book ban

'It's our right to read what we want to read' says protester as 25 out of 25,000 books at fair are banned for being offensive or sexually explicit.

KUWAIT CITY // About 150 Kuwaitis yesterday protested against the government's decision to ban books from the country's largest annual book fair.

The protest at a seminar sponsored by the Kuwait Graduates Society, a civil society group, was held the day after the government announced it had banned 25 of 25,000 books publishers had planned to bring to the 35th Kuwait Book Fair next month. The government said the banned books were offensive to Islam, sexually explicit or offended Kuwait and friendly countries.

"We've lost this festival; we've lost it," said Ibrahim Almulaifi, a board member of the graduates society who spoke at the event. "They say the books are against Allah, the Prophet Mohammed or his companions, but who decides they are wrong? It's our right to read what we want to read." Mr Almulaifi said he believes the government has banned more than 25 books. "We don't have the right numbers. We're working in the dark."

He also said the ministry of information lacked staff that is qualified enough to determine what people should read. Human-rights activists, prominent writers and leaders of non-governmental organisations also spoke at the event. Not all Kuwaitis have opposed the ban. Some conservative MPs commended the ministry this week. One called the books "heretical and immoral".