The Palestinian Attorney General’s move to prosecute writer Abbad Yahya, banning his novel and accusing him of threatening morality and public decency in his novel Crime in Ramallah, is a gross violation of his right to freedom of expression.
Twenty-nine-year-old Abbad Yahya is currently stranded in Doha, Qatar, after the Attorney General’s office ordered the confiscation of all copies of his novel, Crime in Ramallah, on 6 February 2017 as a result of its investigation. The Attorney General’s office also issued a summons to Yahya, the book’s publisher and its distributor. Fuad al-Akleek, the book’s distributor, was reportedly arrested and held for six hours shortly afterwards.
Yahya’s fourth novel, Crime in Ramallah, tells the story of three Palestinian men who work in a bar, where the murder of a young woman takes place. The book goes on to chart how the murder affects each man’s life. The novel explores the themes of politics, religion and homosexuality through its protagonists. Crime in Ramallah is reportedly not only seen as critical of the Palestinian authorities through its symbolism, but also contains sexual language and references.
Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:
It is appalling that Abbad Yahya cannot return home because he fears he may be arrested over a novel he has written. The response to his novel is not only disproportionate; it is entirely out of place. Abbad Yahya’s novel may have challenged political and religious orthodoxy, but he has the right to express his thoughts. The Palestinian Authority should take immediate steps to overturn the ban and ensure that he will be able to return home safely and protected from any threats.
Since the launch of the Attorney General’s investigation, Yahya has been the victim of a hate campaign on social media. He has received death threats and copies of his novel were reportedly burnt in the Gaza strip.
The department of culture and information of the Palestine Liberation Organisation condemned the Attorney General’s office decision, stating:
To use the term public decency is a form of manipulation and unacceptable justification because it has no legal or logical definition. It opens the doors for an endless censorship, which violates freedom of expression and right to creative writing.
Meanwhile, on 10 February, the Hamas Ministry of Culture issued a press release condemning the novel, calling for Yahya to be held accountable.
English PEN joins PEN International in calling on the Attorney General to close its investigation into Abbad Yahya, and reverse the ban of Crime in Ramallah. Furthermore, PEN also calls on the Palestinian authorities to allow Yahya to return home safely without threat of prosecution and to protect him from harm.