Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji’s jail term upheld over sexually explicit book
Egyptian author Ahmed Naji, who was sentenced to two years in prison after a sexually explicit scene from his novel The Use of Life was ruled to have “violat[ed] public modesty”, has had his motion to suspend the prison sentence rejected by a Cairo court.
Naji was given his two-year sentence in February, after an Egyptian citizen claimed that the sexual content in an excerpt from The Use of Life had made his blood pressure drop and his heartbeat fluctuate. More than 500 Egyptian writers and artists, including Ahdaf Soueif, have signed a statement in solidarity with Naji, and in May, more than 120 international writers including Philip Roth, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Michael Chabon put their names to a letter calling for his release.
“Mr Naji is serving a two-year prison sentence for writing a novel that contains references to sex and drugs, subjects so relevant to contemporary life that they are addressed through creative expression worldwide, and clearly fall within Egypt’s constitutional protections for artistic freedom,” said the letter.
But the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy reported that on 27 August, a Cairo court ruled against Naji’s motion for a stay of execution of his sentence, which would have enabled him to be released pending his appeal. The ruling means that the author will continue to serve his two-year sentence, unless a subsequent appeal is successful.
A petition from the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy that condemns Naji’s sentence, calling it unconstitutional and “a travesty for freedom of expression and justice more broadly”, has been signed by almost 9,000 people.
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, said in May, when Naji’s brother Mohamed Naji accepted the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on his behalf, that the author’s sentence “for a crime of the imagination flouts the rule of law and is yet another blow to the dynamic literary and arts scene in Egypt”.
“The name Ahmed Naji, said Nossel, “has become a rallying cry for writers around the world to stand with free-thinking Egyptians who are unwilling to surrender their rights without a fight.”