Free speech is under threat, prominent writers said Friday, after a British court halted the publication of a well-known performer's memoir of child abuse because his ex-wife argued that it would harm their son.
Last week, three appeals court judges in London granted an injunction stopping the publication of the book, which has already been printed, pending a full trial scheduled for April.
To preserve the child's anonymity, the judgment does not name the author, his ex-partner or their pre-teen son. The author is described as a "talented young performing artist." His ex-wife and son live in a country referred to as Ruritania, the name of a fictional kingdom.
The judges said the book, a semi-autobiographical work dealing with childhood sexual abuse and its traumatic legacy, handles the topic "in an artistic and insightful way" and could encourage other abuse victims to speak about their past.
The ex-wife argued the book would cause serious psychological harm to their son, who has Asperger's syndrome and other disabilities.
Writers including Tom Stoppard, Colm Toibin, David Hare and Stephen Fry signed a letter calling the ruling "a significant threat to freedom of expression." The letter was published Friday by the group English PEN.
"The public is being denied the opportunity of reading an enlightening memoir, while publishers, authors and journalists may face censorship on similar grounds in the future," the letter said.
But lawyer Susan Aslan, who represents the son, said the case "turns on very, very particular facts" that are unlikely to be repeated. She said the book contained "gut-wrenching" descriptions of abuse and self-harm, even though the parents had previously agreed to protect their son from damaging details of their pasts.
"You can't put the genie back into the bottle," she said. "Once the child has suffered irreparable harm, the child has suffered irreparable harm."