An appeal hearing against a two-year prison sentence imposed on novelist Ahmed Naji for publishing a “sexually explicit” article in an Egyptian newspaper has been delayed.
The writer was jailed in February for “violating public modesty”. He was convicted after the state-owned Akhbar al-Adab published extracts from his 2014 novel The Use of Life. The prosecution followed a reader’s complaint that the extract had caused him to “experience heart palpitations and an extreme feeling of sickness along with a sharp drop in blood pressure”. The newspaper editor was fined the equivalent of £430 for running the extract.
This is the third attempt to have Naji’s sentence overturned. Though he was initially acquitted of all charges in January, the prosecutor appealed and Naji was found guilty.
Writers have been in the frontline of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s crackdown on press freedom and public demonstrations over the past year. Though the country’s 2014 constitution expressly prohibits the jailing of writers and artists for publishing their work, it has not stopped their arrests or raids on publishers, theatres and galleries.
Naji’s case has been the subject of global protests. Human rights group International PEN said his imprisonment violated the right to freedom of expression, as provided for under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is party, and under Egypt’s constitution. The latter guarantees freedom of thought and opinion, as well as freedom of artistic and literary creation.
In May, more than 120 prominent international writers and artists, including Philip Roth, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Patti Smith, Woody Allen and Stephen Sondheim, called on Sisi to release Naji in a letter sent by free speech organisation PEN America. That same month, the same organisation honoured Naji with the PEN/Barbery Freedom to Write award. Presenting the award, Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, said: “The name Ahmed Naji 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.”
The appeal will be heard in Cairo on 18 December.