(New York)— PEN America called for the immediate release today of Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy after his reported attempted suicide behind bars.

Justin Shilad, PEN America’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy lead, said: “The Egyptian government is responsible for Galal El-Behairy’s health and safety behind bars, just as it is ultimately responsible for the despair it has imposed on him through the unending wheel of arbitrary detention. Egyptian authorities must end this cruel and unjust cycle by releasing him immediately and unconditionally, and international organizations and Egypt’s partners should prioritize his case and freedom of expression more broadly in their interactions with the Egyptian government. At stake is not only Galal’s fate, but also that of other imprisoned writers, as well as Egypt’s cultural life itself.”

Earlier this month, El-Behairy announced that he was starting a new hunger strike as he reached two years in pretrial detention. Egyptian authorities arrested El-Behairy in March 2018 after he wrote lyrics for Egyptian musician Ramy Essam’s song “Balaha.” A military court sentenced him to three years in prison in July 2018, but after the completion of his sentence in 2021 kept him behind bars while awaiting trial on new charges. He has been behind bars ever since, and his case has been flagged to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Galal El-Behairy is one of 10 writers behind bars in Egypt according to PEN America’s 2022 Freedom to Write Index, which ranks Egypt eighth on its list of top 10 countries of concern.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] / +1 310 699 8775