NEW YORK – The court’s decision today to order a retrial for novelist Ahmed Naji prolongs a legal battle over free expression in Egypt that has already gone on far too long, PEN America said in a statement today.

A Cairo appeals court today overturned the February 2016 decision under which Naji was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for “violating public modesty,” but also ordered the case to re-tried. This is the second time the case has been appealed, after an acquittal in a trial court in 2015  led prosecutors to appeal the case to a higher court that in February 2016 delivered a guilty verdict and imposed the maximum sentence of two years in prison.

“While the Egyptian court was right to vacate Naji’s conviction, for him to face a potential second trial for the non-crime of writing a novel is absurd,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “Naji has already been through a long saga to defend his right to creative expression, rallying literary voices throughout Egypt and the world to uphold that ideas contained in a work of fiction must not be criminalized. The court and Egyptian authorities should reject all charges against him and set him free without restrictions or the prospect of any future jeopardy.”‎

The author of three books and a journalist at the state-funded Akhbar al-Adab literary magazine, Ahmed Naji is part of a young and inventive cohort of Egyptian writers, artists, and illustrators. In 2015, he was charged with “violating public modesty” after a private citizen complained that Naji’s latest novel, previously approved by the Egypt Censorship Board, caused the elderly man heart palpations. Naji, who had been released from jail in December 2016, has been subject to a travel ban and other restrictions on his activity while the appeal was pending. Details on a timeline for the retrial and a possible lifting of these restrictions are expected in the coming days.

“Today’s ruling was a small victory for all believers in free expression, not a personal victory,” Naji said via Twitter on Sunday. “Nothing compensates for a year lost.”

Naji’s imprisonment unleashed a storm of outrage among his fellow writers and journalists in Egypt and around the world. In May 2016, he was honored with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award by PEN America.

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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.

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646.779.4830