March 22, 2023

Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission: Statement on Banned Books Week and Freedom of Expression

299206_222736337778702_930327_nHRC’s Statement on Banned Books Week and Freedom of Expression

Each year the last week in September is recognised as World Banned Books Week by the American Libraries Association. The week recognises freedom of expression and celebrates reading by bringing awareness to the issue of censorship as it relates to books. In the Cayman Islands such censorship is found in the Prohibited Publications Order (under the Penal Code) which first came into effect in the Cayman Islands in 1977.

Prohibiting the importation of publications and periodicals, the Prohibited Publications Order (1998 Revision) lists over 130 items which are banned from being brought into the islands. Many of these publications are political, including materials from the USA, former USSR, Canada, the UK, North Korea and China. Some are religious in nature, for example all publications of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, a sect of Rastafarianism. Also included are some adult publications and books dealing with the occult and magic.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-8-52-58-amWhilst no publications by local authors appear on the list, the Human Rights Commission considers that the Prohibited Publications Order continues to set a dangerous precedent for censorship of cultural, political and religious expression. A glance through a list of previously challenged and banned publications in the USA by American authors ( may leave readers shaking their heads in confusion – books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1884), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925), and Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1984) now widely appear on school reading lists worldwide, and have been recognised by the US Library of Congress on their list of “Books that Shaped America…reflecting America’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage”.

“Censorship of expression or restriction of practicing an individual’s right to conscience and religion are prohibited under the Cayman Islands Constitution, except in specific, limited, circumstances such as where it is in the interest of public safety to do so, or to protect the rights and freedoms of others in a balanced manner” said Commission Chairman James Austin Smith. “Disproportionate and irrational restrictions on allowing persons to participate fully in their religion or personal expression are unconstitutional and can open Government up to liability. Instead of prohibiting reading materials, the Commission would encourage Government to focus on improving literacy (which the Ministry of Education has indicated is a concern) to encourage critical thinking and an engaged and well-informed society.”

The Human Rights Commission notes that the Freedom of Expression under Cayman’s Bill of Rights includes “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”, the censorship of publications, in this case without any explanation or apparent justification, is quite contrary to those rights. Equally, in a world where materials more explicit in nature and articulating a vast range of political and religious views are readily available on the internet, the banning of this small selection of materials is not only hard to comprehend but, ultimately, utterly futile.

Anyone who may have a complaint or enquiry on human rights-related concerns can contact the Commission via their confidential email at [email protected]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind