NEW YORK—The arrest and detention of writer Ibrahim al-Husseini represents the latest unwarranted attack on individual free expression in Egypt, and Egyptian authorities should release him immediately, PEN America noted in a statement today. 

Husseini, a writer, publisher, and activist, was arrested at his home in Cairo on December 9. Police also seized a number of his books and electronic devices. According to his daughter Samar, police informed his family that the arrest was connected to his recent social media activity, including posts that commented on news events in both Egypt and France. Since his arrest, he has been held at several different locations and reportedly interrogated for 18 hours and denied access to a lawyer or to his family. 

Family and friends fear for his well-being because he is elderly and in poor health, previously having had seven strokes which require regular physical therapy and currently suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. His family were only allowed to deliver him medicine after 4 days. Husseini has been a defender of social justice since the 1970’s and has been detained on previous occasions by the Egyptian government. The State Security Prosecution has ordered him held for 15 days on a charge of inciting demonstrations, although they have not given a copy of the filing to his lawyer.

“While attacks on individual free expression in today’s Egypt are nothing new, the detention and ill treatment of an elderly writer for his online comments is a disgrace,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We condemn the abusive tactics employed against Ibrahim al-Husseini, and call for him to be given speedy access to adequate medical care and for him to be released as soon as possible. Online commentary should not be a basis for arrest and prosecution.”

Freedom of expression and the press in Egypt have deteriorated dramatically over the past 5 years under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rule. The government has curtailed freedom of expression by, among other methods, instating a harsh anti-protest law, leveling falsified charges to quash media outlets that confront the established national narrative, introducing a law that fines journalists for reporting “false news,” and prosecuting individuals who express different religious or political viewpoints with punishments of fines, harsh prison sentences, or even death sentences. Dozens of journalists, writers, and other creative artists are currently in jail. PEN America has advocated on behalf of a number of individuals prosecuted for their work, including writer Ahmed Naji, the 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write award winner; the photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan; and lyricist Gahal El-Behairy, who is currently also on trial.

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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. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org