(NEW YORK)— PEN America today condemned Tunisian President Kais Saied, who gave a speech about freedom of thought to open the country’s national book fair, only to then have security agents of the state order the confiscation of a book, The Tunisian Frankenstein by author Kamel Riahi. The free expression organization said the seizure of the book was another “alarming sign” of deteriorating progress on democracy in the country.
The agents also forced the closure of a stand that Riahi’s publisher, Dar el-Kitab (The House of Books), a leading regional publisher, was using to sell its books at the festival.  The newly released book, in Arabic, depicts Saied as a political Frankenstein monster, created in the wake of the 2011 popular revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring.  The publisher reported that the book had been selling briskly until they were shut down.  PEN America has learned that after the book was seized at the fair and readers went directly to the publisher in search of it, only to have the government respond with an order to ban the book entirely.
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “Tunisian President Kais Saied cannot have it both ways.  Defending freedom of speech and thought means doing so even – and especially – when it involves criticism of its leaders.  To set loose security agents to seize a book and shut down bookselling at a fair is nothing short of authoritarian, and another alarming sign of the deterioration of Tunisia’s democratic progress.  These actions represent an egregious intrusion on literary freedom, infringing not just on the rights of author Kamel Riahi but those of every Tunisian who deserves to be able to choose what to read.  We call on the government of Tunisia to lift all restrictions on The Tunisian Frankenstein.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057