2017: Egypt: Hesham Gaafar

Egyptian journalist and human rights activist Hesham Gaafar has been detained on charges of international bribery and membership of an outlawed organization. Since his detention he has been denied sufficient health care and has supposedly suffered physical assault from a security officer.

 

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Office of the President
al-Ittihadia Palace
Cairo
Arab Republic of Egypt

Oslo 16th October 2017

Your Excellency,

Norwegian PEN is strongly concerned about the wellfare of writer and head of The Mada Foundation for Media Development (MADA), Hesham Gaafar.

Gaafar was arrested on 21st October 2015 by armed agents from the Egyptian security services when they raided MADA’s offices. Gaafar has since then been held in arbitrary detention without trial in accordance with international fair trial standards. His family has only been permitted to visit him sporadically and his health has deteriorated seriously due to insufficient medical care whilst in detention. He is now at a high risk of becoming totally blind and also has signs of untreated prostate cancer.

Norwegian PEN is concerned that Gaafar is being detained because of his writing and civil society activism. We call for Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally end the prosecution and drop the criminal charges against Gaafar, and to release him without delay. We equally call for him being given immediate access to adequate medical treatment.

Norwegian PEN urges Egyptian authorities to ensure Gaafar’s right to freedom of expression and opinion in accordance with Egypt’s Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party.

 

Yours sincerely,

Ms Johanne Fronth-Nygren
Member of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

2016 Egypt: Ahmed Naji

Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji remains imprisoned on his birthday:

After nearly seven months in prison, novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji’s motions for a stay of execution have been denied, and he continues to await a date for his appeal, despite his lawyer’s having filed for one in late April.

Naji’s imprisonment began in February 2016, after published excerpts from his 2014 novel, Istikhdam al-Hayat (The Use of Life), were deemed to ‘violate public modesty’ under article 178 of Egypt’s penal code, largely because the work described scenes of drug use and sexuality.  Alongside Naji’s arrest and two-year sentence comes also a conviction and fine for his publisher Tarek El Taher, editor of Akhbar al-Adab magazine.

Ahmed Naji’s work was approved before publication by the Publications Censorship Authority, and as a work of fiction, is clearly a legitimate exercise of his freedom of expression under international law.  Criminal charges were brought against Naji because of an individual reader’s complaint, and though the former was originally acquitted on 2 January 2016, he continues to be persecuted and unjustly imprisoned by the Egyptian judiciary.

PEN International reports that “over 500 Egyptian writers and artists have signed a statement in solidarity with Naji, and in May over 120 international writers, editors and artists joined a PEN America statement calling on President Sisi to drop the charges against Naji, and to release him immediately.”  Furthermore, Naji has been awarded the 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Sadly, in recent months there has been a steady decline for respect of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in Egypt.  Naji is just one of many writers, poets, publishers, and journalists, and activists whose voices are being punished or silenced for their dissenting, or merely creative, opinions.

According to PEN International, “Restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt have also been accompanied by a crackdown on cultural houses, [..] publishing house[s], and […] human rights defenders, with NGO workers repeatedly being summoned for questioning, banned from travelling and having their assets frozen”.

Norwegian PEN and the Writers in Prison Committee take this opportunity to stand in solidarity with Naji and his fellow artists, and call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Click here to read our letter to the Egyptian authorities.

An English translation of Chapter 6 of Istikhdam al-Hayah (The Use of Life) by Ahmed Naji is  available here.

Al Jazeera-journalist i sultestreik – frykt for hans liv etter flytting til ukjent sted

Al Jazeera Arabic journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, who has been on hunger strike in an Egyptian prison for the past 112 days, has been taken from his prison cell to an undisclosed location, sources say.

Monday’s development came a day after his lawyer asked Egyptian authorities to transfer him to hospital within 48 hours.

Shaaban Saeed said his client could die if he is not given immediate help

Elshamy’s health has been deteriorating rapidly with blood tests conducted on May 8 showing that he was suffering from acute anaemia, decreasing red blood cells and kidney dysfunction.

«He has started to have impaired liver and kidney function,» Dr Mohamed Ussama Al Homsi, the doctor who reviewed the test results, told Al Jazeera. «All of these can cause big problems for him. This means that his organs are in danger.»Elshamy has been imprisoned in Egypt for 271 days and during his hunger strike, he has lost a third of his body weight. Three other Al Jazeera journalists are also being held in an Egyptian jail.

Homsi said Elshamy’s condition was life-threatening and he could «die within a few days».

He added that the journalist’s hunger strike has gone beyond all records and he should stop immediately.

«He should be transferred to an intensive care unit,» Homsi said. «I’m worried about what his situation might be now.»

Elshamy sent a letter from prison on May 6, describing how guards tried to convince him to start eating.

A guard talked «about the importance of looking after my health, trying to be friendly by saying he would refer my case to the prosecutor and to the court as if that had not been done already,» Elshamy wrote.

‘Contesting the ill-treatment’

Besides Elshamy, Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed of Al Jazeera English have been incarcerated in Egypt’s Tora prison for 133 days.

On World Press Freedom Day, Fahmy commented on Elshamy’s hunger strike, saying that the «dozens of prisoners enduring weeks of genuine, life-threatening hunger strikes, are noble men who have no other way to contest the ill-treatment they face in prison.»

Journalists covering Elshamy’s court hearing on May 3 recorded him as saying that he had not seen a doctor or a lawyer since he was jailed.

Al Jazeera’s journalists stand accused of spreading false news and aligning with the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that the current Egyptian government considers to be a «terrorist» organisation.

The trial of Greste, Fahmy and Mohammed has been adjourned until May 15.

Al Jazeera strongly denies the accusations made against its staff and has called on the Egyptian authorities to free them immediately.

Egyptiske kunstnere, skribenter og journalister ber om støtte i kampen for full ytringsfrihet

The National Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Expression (NCDFE) in Egypt

Cairo, Egypt 20 March, 2013

Dear Sir/Mme,

We are writing on behalf of the National Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Expression (NCDFE) in Egypt, an organization made up of some of the country’s most prominent novelists, writers, journalists and others working in the fields of media and art. The main reason we decided to form this group a year ago was our deep concern and alarm over the state of freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt, even though we hoped that after a great revolution like the one we had on 25 January, 2011, we would witness an unprecedented expansion in those fields. After all, one of the key demands of that popular uprising that toppled the former regime after 30 years in office was “freedom,” together with “bread and social justice.”

Nevertheless, after the country’s ruling group, the Muslim Brotherhood, took control, and the election of one of its members, Mohamed Morsi, as president on 30 June, 2012, Egypt has experienced a sharp and speedy deterioration in the state of freedom of expression. The president, and top leaders of the Brotherhood including its General Guide, Mohamed Badie, have repeatedly attacked the media, and demanded to limit freedoms. The media is being held responsible for the decaying state of security and economy, and increasing levels of violence, while disregarding the failures of the current president and government.  We kindly seek your support and solidarity in facing those attacks, mainly because we believe freedom of expression is one of those universal values that all human beings should enjoy.

On Saturday 16 March, 2013, journalists gathered in front of the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to cover a protest that was scheduled to take place in front of the building. However, Muslim Brotherhood guards, who cannot be described except as members of an organized militia, brutally attacked journalists and protesters. One photographer was chased in the streets, and was badly beaten by members of the Muslim Brotherhood militia, breaking his leg. Others needed stitches, their equipment was broken, and they were verbally and physically abused.

The NCDFE strongly condemns such acts, and rejects the claims made by Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen to justify the behavior of its members in attacking journalists, alleging they took part in the protest, or that they provoked the guards standing in front of building.

We believe this last attack against journalists is part of a general pattern aimed at threatening and limiting freedom of the media, and a violation of the rights of citizens to receive credible information and objective coverage without restrictions from any political group. The physical attack against journalists by Muslim Brotherhood members also followed repeated statements by the President and leaders of the group attacking the media, accusing particular newspapers and television stations of providing false facts and threatening to take measures against them. In reality, they only want to control the media, and use it as a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood, exactly like the ousted regime did.

Under the Muslim Brotherhood rule, their militias directly attacked journalists, and of our colleagues, Al-Husseini Abu Deif, was killed while covering clashes between supporters of President Morsi, and his opponents in front of the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis on 5 December, 2012. The NCDFE believes that the slow reaction by legal authorities in prosecuting suspected killers of Abu Deif, and others involved in attacks against journalists, has encouraged such aggressive action against the media.

We are extremely alarmed and dismayed that, until today, no suspects were presented to trial in the cases of Abu-Deif, the siege of the Media City, at 6th of October town, near Cairo in December, 2012 by members of an extremist Islamist group, and three arson attacks against the headquarters of Al-Wafd and Al-Watan newspapers. We also call upon legal authorities to consider seriously the official complaints filed by the six journalists who were brutally beaten and attacked on Saturday 16 March in front of the Brotherhood’s headquarters, and to put on trial those involved. The NCDEF expresses solidarity with a similar complaint presented to the Prosecutor-General by the Egyptian Press Syndicate, demanding the questioning of the Brotherhood’s General Guide, Mr. Mohamed Badie, and his deputy, Mr. Khairat Al-Shater, to find out whether they issued orders to members of their militias to attack journalists.

In its last meeting on Sunday 17 March, 2013, the NCDEF board headed by prominent novelist, Mr. Bahaa Tahar, and former Press Syndicate Chairman, Galal Aref, decided the following:

1-    To call for a peaceful protest in front of the headquarters of the Egyptian Press Syndicate on 20 March, 2013 in which all those concerned with freedom of expression, including prominent intellectuals, artists and those working in the media were invited to take part.
2-    We call upon political parties, non-governmental organizations, associations defending freedom of thought and expression, in Egypt and worldwide, to take a clear stand in defense of freedom of expression in Egypt, the right to peaceful protest, and the right of journalists and those working in the media to perform their work in a peaceful environment.
3-    We express solidarity with the Press Syndicate in the complaint filed to the Prosecutor-General against the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and his deputy, and any further steps the Syndicate will decide upon in the next stage.
4-    We will address local and international human rights groups, and others concerned with freedom of the press, and freedom of opinion and expression, including the UN Committee on Human Rights, the International Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalists without Borders, Article 19 and others to demand their solidarity with Egyptian journalists against attacks they have been subjected to.
5-    We hold the President, the Interior Minister, and the Prosecutor-General responsible for the dangerous consequences of turning a blind eye against violent practices of illegal militias that belong to political parties and groups.
6-    We strongly condemn the statements made by Information Minister, Mr. Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, in Qatar, and those made by the president’s advisor on foreign affairs, Mr. Essam Hadad, in Germany, attacking the Egyptian media, and blaming them for the failures of the current Muslim Brotherhood president and government.
7-    We call for the formation of an Independent Media Council that will seek to fulfill the goals of the 25 January Revolution, one of which was to end state control over the media, assure the independence of the press and that it wouldn’t be used to serve the political agenda of the ruling regime, and the right of the Egyptian people to a free media.

Political and religious populism threatens freedom of expression

Oslo 8. March 2012

To the board of PEN International

Political and religious populism threatens freedom of expression

Political use of religious symbols and play on religious feelings undermine freedom of speech and political debate in many parts of the world. Populist politicians exploit human insecurity and powerlessness by stirring demonstrations, public rage and violent actions against members for alleged blasphemy, unbelief and lack of respect for sacred symbols.

Religious based law and scripture interpretation restrict human freedom. Statutory or politically interpreted commands and prohibitions define shame, honor and punishment in violation of basic human rights for women, children, religious and sexual minorities and make political and artistic criticism impossible.

In the battle for the evangelical Christian conservative votes in the United States, the remaining candidates in the race to be nominated for the Republican presidential candidate become increasingly clear on religious affiliation and religiously motivated political views. Questions about abortion, homosexuality and so-called Christian family values become central, well-defined issues. Former President Jimmy Carter is one of many who is now warning against excessive use of religion and religious symbols in the political nomination battle.

In Nigeria, religion and religious identity is being exploited in order to strengthen regional and ethnic borders. Politicization of Islam through the introduction of sharia in several states in this declaredly secular republic has led to increased political tension and has triggered regional, violent conflicts between Muslim and Christian groups.

In Iran and Iraq there has been a shift from secular to Islamic constitutions. The Iranian Constitution, which states that all other legislation must be based on Islamic criteria, is the strictest. The Afghan Constitution of 2004, Article 2, states that «no law can be contrary to the teachings and laws of Islam.» This has weakened the position of human rights in the country´s legislation.  It has limited the number of religions that are approved as a recognized religion and weakened freedom of expression and equality.

Egypt’s first democratic elections has given the Muslim parties an overwhelming majority in Parliament. What consequences this will have on the design of the new Egyptian constitution, remains to be seen. The country’s Coptic Christian minority is experiencing various forms of sectarian harassment, and fears increased discrimination including greater influence from radical Islamist parties. Many women fear the introduction of sharia, which will severely restrict their rights and freedoms. Author Nawal El Saadavi is among the most outspoken critics of the fact that the commission, which has started to work on a proposed new constitution, was formed without the participation of women.

In Pakistan weak politicians allow themselves to be dictated by small religious populist parties, which exploit the strong anti-Western trends in the country in its struggle to preserve the country’s inhumane blasphemy laws. A law that involves the possibility of accusations, imprisonment and brutal punishment of women and children, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities and political critics.

Indian politicians like to describe the country as the world’s most populous democracy. Author Salman Rushdie was recently forced to withdraw from India’s largest literary festival in Jaipur in northwest India. Muslim extremists claimed that Rushdie’s expressions violate Islam and that criminals should be hired to eliminate the author. Again, Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses from 1988 is being used to justify threats from Muslim activists and populist politicians. An Iranian fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 involved a death sentence for the author and all his translators and publishers. The fatwa still formally exists. Satanic Verses was banned in India shortly after its release and is still blacklisted. The ban came after pressure from Muslim populist politicians. The novel became a symbol for the strengthening of support among Muslim voters and led to pressure against PM Ranjiv Gandhi and the Congress Party, which was dependent on Muslim votes. Roughly 23 years later the Congress Party is back in power, but chooses silently to let the threats from extremists set the agenda in the political power struggle.

Norwegian PEN warns against a trend in which religiously based politics, at both national and international levels, weakens freedom of expression and undermine basic human rights for individuals and groups. Norwegian PEN urges PEN International, the national PEN clubs, other human rights organizations and  institutions, and national and international authors´-, journalists´-  and publishers´ organizations to challenge a political development in which populist politicians abuse religious feelings and symbols in order to set groups up against each other, undermine the rights of individuals and groups and weaken freedom of expression.

On behalf of the board of Norwegian PEN

Ann-Magrit Austenå                   Carl Morten Iversen
boardmember                             secretary general

Egyptisk PEN støtter opprørerne og krever full ytringsfrihet

Statement by Egypt PEN

18 February 2011

Egypt PEN reiterates its support for the Egyptian Youths’ Revolution and their calls for free expression along with political and economic reform. The first stage of this revolution is over. Before we move on, this is the time to send our condolences to all those families whose children were sacrificed while struggling for the liberation of our country from a corrupted regime that had usurped power for 30 years. We, of Egypt PEN, associate ourselves with their demands.

The Youths’ Revolution unified the people of Egypt in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt around the common goals of reconstructing our society and addressing the unacceptable levels of inequality and poverty in the country. This can only be accomplished through the restoration of full freedom of expression, which means freedom of the mass media – whether print, radio, television, or Internet. We call for the end of all forms of censorship of creativity, the end of book seizures, and an end to the censorship of dramatic works. We call for the abolishment of all penal laws that imprison people on grounds of their political or religious views. All of this can only be accomplished with the ending of the Emergency Laws.

The Youths’ Revolution has demonstrated that both free expression and ideas based on facts are powerful weapons when people are faced with oppression. What has been lost over three decades cannot be restored over night. However, we call upon the Council of the Armed Forces to uphold the promise of the Youths’ Revolution by adhering to the principles of free expression and transparent democracy.

Eqbal Baraka
Egyptian PEN President

PEN Egypt supports the demonstrators and demand full freedom of expression

Statement by Egypt PEN

18 February 2011

Egypt PEN reiterates its support for the Egyptian Youths’ Revolution and their calls for free expression along with political and economic reform. The first stage of this revolution is over. Before we move on, this is the time to send our condolences to all those families whose children were sacrificed while struggling for the liberation of our country from a corrupted regime that had usurped power for 30 years. We, of Egypt PEN, associate ourselves with their demands.

The Youths’ Revolution unified the people of Egypt in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt around the common goals of reconstructing our society and addressing the unacceptable levels of inequality and poverty in the country. This can only be accomplished through the restoration of full freedom of expression, which means freedom of the mass media – whether print, radio, television, or Internet. We call for the end of all forms of censorship of creativity, the end of book seizures, and an end to the censorship of dramatic works. We call for the abolishment of all penal laws that imprison people on grounds of their political or religious views. All of this can only be accomplished with the ending of the Emergency Laws.

The Youths’ Revolution has demonstrated that both free expression and ideas based on facts are powerful weapons when people are faced with oppression. What has been lost over three decades cannot be restored over night. However, we call upon the Council of the Armed Forces to uphold the promise of the Youths’ Revolution by adhering to the principles of free expression and transparent democracy.

Eqbal Baraka
Egyptian PEN President

2007: Egypt: Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman – follow up

Oslo, 10. April 2007

His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Republic of Egypt
Heliopolis, Egypt
Fax: +202 390 1998

Your Excellency,

As Chair Writers in Prison Committee of  Norwegian PEN, I remain seriously concerned about the numbers of writers and journalists sentenced or facing charges for their writings in Egypt. Writers, journalists and civil society activists remain at risk of detention, trial and imprisonment solely for peacefully expressing their views.

The renewal of the Emergency Law in April 2006 is widely regarded as a means to silence critics and maintain strong restrictions on freedom of expression and religion
Egypt’s press is one of the most influential and widely-read in the region but despite a pledge made by President Mubarak in February 2004 to decriminalise offences committed by journalists, laws which allow imprisonment for defaming the president, state institutions and foreign heads of state remain in place.

The Writers in Prison Committee Norwegian PEN protests the detention of Internet writer Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman (aka Kareem Amer), and all judicial proceedings against journalists and writers in Egypt solely for their writings. International PEN considers Kareem Amer to be detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Trusting that you, Your Excellency, will take immediate action, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Elisabet W. Middelthon/sign.                                             Carl Morten Iversen
Chair Writers in Prison Committee, Norwegian PEN             Secretary general

Copies to:
His Excellency Cr Mamdouh Muheiddin Marei
Minister of Justice
Magles El Shaab St, Justice Bldg
Cairo, Egypt, fax: +202 7958103
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Norwegian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt
Egyptian Embassy in Oslo, Norway

2007: Egypt: Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman

Oslo, 15 March 2007

His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Republic of Egypt
Heliopolis, Egypt

Fax: +202 390 1998

Your Excellency,

As Chair of Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN, I protest the four-year sentence given to Internet writer Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, better known under the pseudonym of Kareem Amer. We are convinced that he has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression, and Norwegian PEN calls for the charges to be dismissed and Kareem Amer to be released immediately and unconditionally.

I also protest the decision of the Court of Appeal to allow a civil suit against Kareem Amer on charges of ‘insulting Islam’. I am serioously concerned about him, and I seek assurances that he is being treated humanely in detention.

This is not the first time that Kareem Amer has been detained for his critical writings. He was held for 12 days in October 2005 for his articles on Islam and his coverage of sectarian riots in Alexandria. These articles also led to his dismissal from al-Azhar University in March 2006 after its disciplinary board found him guilty of blasphemy against Islam.

I am reminding the Egyptian authorities of their obligations to protect freedom of expression as laid out by Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, as well as President Mubarak’s pledge in February 2004 to decriminalise defamation.
The Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN protests the Alexandria Appeal Court’s decision to uphold the four-year prison sentence handed down to Internet writer Abdel Kareem

Yours sincerely,

Elisabet W.Middelthon
Chair Writers in Prison Committee, Norwegian PEN

Copies to:
His Excellency Cr Mamdouh Muheiddin Marei
Minister of Justice
Magles El Shaab St, Justice Bldg
Cairo, Egypt

Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Norwegian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt
Egyptian Embassy in Oslo, Norway