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.