SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A crime novel set in Ramallah has been outlawed there and in other Palestinian cities. The Palestinian Authority's attorney general banned the book. He said it contains indecent terms that threaten public morality. Now the author's gone into hiding. NPR's Joanne Kakissis spoke to him and sent this report.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Abbad Yahya has been writing controversial novels about Palestinian society for years. Speaking to NPR via Skype, the 28-year-old writer says his critics usually complain about the same things.
ABBAD YAHYA: Sometimes about the political opinions characters have and the secret life of the people sexually or psychologically - something like this.
KAKISSIS: Yahya expected similar criticism of his recent fourth novel, titled "Crime In Ramallah." It follows the lives of three young men affected by the murder of a woman in the city where the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters. It also portrays the authority's leaders as ineffective and corrupt.
YAHYA: I thought the book may raise some noise and provoke writers, intellectuals or readers, but I really was shocked when I started to read what people are writing about me.
KAKISSIS: Last month, they wrote in Facebook posts that they wanted to lynch him and burn bookstores carrying his latest novel. They were especially outraged that one of the characters is a gay man who has a sexual fantasy about Yasser Arafat. Yahya says he was shocked at the venom, especially in Ramallah, a lively city where he has always felt free to write what he wants. Then he heard police had detained his novel's distributor, Fuad Akleek.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
KAKISSIS: I make Akleek at a bookstore in Ramallah. He tells me what happened.
FUAD AKLEEK: (Through interpreter) The police asked me, where do you get the books? Who did you distribute the books to? Where are your copies?
KAKISSIS: The Palestinian Authority's attorney general had issued a statement saying the book is indecent. Police then asked the bookstore's owner, Khadr IBRAHIM al-Bis', to hand over copies of the book.
KHADR IBRAHIM AL-BIS': (Through interpreter) But I only had one left. People had heard about the crackdown and bought 17 copies in just a few hours.
KAKISSIS: The last time Palestinian authorities banned a book was 10 years ago. At that time, the militant group Hamas was in charge of the education ministry, and the book was a folk tale anthology distributed to schools. Yahya says he never expected censorship from more progressive Palestinian Authority officials.
YAHYA: In public, when they talk about Israel and they talk about freedom and human rights and Palestine, they try to appeal to liberals.
KAKISSIS: But, he adds, they act like conservatives at home because they're so unpopular. Yahya was in Qatar when he heard police were looking for him. He canceled a public appearance at a book club in the West Bank city of Nablus due to death threats. Book club members like Ala'a Qaraman felt threatened even reading the book in public, as she told NPR via Skype.
ALA'A QARAMAN: No one can hold this book in Nablus in public. You must book it in a bag or something. So it's really like having a stash of drugs - something illegal - and you are hiding it.
KAKISSIS: Yahya is in hiding himself, somewhere in the Middle East. He won't disclose his location because he fears he will be arrested or harmed. Meanwhile, the PEN Center, a literary organization which promotes free speech, has offered him a fellowship in Germany. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, in Ramallah, the West Bank.
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