Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad scored a legal victory this week over the Kabul bookseller who formed the basis for one of her first books to win international acclaim, but her court challenges still aren’t over. Now the unhappy Afghan bookseller she portrayed in her bestseller from 2002 is taking his claim to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Shah Mohammed Rais, who was the central figure in Seierstad’s account of her time as his houseguest in Kabul, was highly displeased by how he and his family were portrayed in Seierstad’s book The Bookseller of Kabul. So was one of his wives when it was translated into English, and their uhappiness set off years of court cases against Seierstad and her publisher, Cappelen Damm.
Seierstad initially lost a lawsuit filed by the bookseller’s wife Suraia Rais, who claimed Seierstad had defamed her family, but Seierstad won at the appeals level. Norway’s Supreme Court refused to hear Rais’ appeal so that victory stood. Another case brought by Shah Mohammed Rais, who also had objected to Seierstad’s methods and account of his family’s life, sought compensation for the Afghan family’s legal fees. It did go all the way to the Supreme Court in Norway, after an appeals court had ordered her to cover his bookseller’s costs.
She appealed to the country’s highest court and this week it reached a different conclusion in her favour. Neither Seierstad nor Cappelen Damm will now need to pay court costs, according to the Supreme Court verdict reported by website Nettavisen. “I’m not surprised but the result is of course good to hear,” Seierstad’s attorney, Cato Schiøtz, told Nettavisen. “This is clearly a full defeat for the bookseller.” It also means Rais must now post a financial guarantee in order to file more claims against Seierstad, since the Supreme Court upheld that requirement set by lower courts.
Rais’ Norwegian attorney Per Danielsen, however, said he will now bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights. Rais and Danielsen have objected not only to the contents of Seierstad’s book but to the need for Rais to post a guarantee in order to pursue claims that Seierstad violated their privacy.