UPDATE: Later Wednesday, Muhammed Aladdin was released from custody. Follow us @penamerica for additional updates.

(New York, NY) – The Egyptian government is going to extreme, brutal measures to quash dissent in an intensified crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly. PEN America today said authorities must immediately cease arresting people without cause and release all those who have been unjustly detained or disappeared. 

Amid an unusual outburst of anti-government protests that began September 20, PEN America has received reports saying numerous writers have been swept up in the ensuing crackdown. Those reportedly detained include Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent blogger and activist who was just released from prison in March after serving a five-year sentence on charges of violating Egypt’s draconian protest law. According to activists on the ground and a statement issued by a group of more than 250 Egyptian writers and intellectuals, other writers who have been detained include writer Ezz Darweish, poet Amina Abdullah, writer Muhammed Aladdin, and writer and journalist Abdullah Ghoneim. Of these, Amina Abdullah and Abdullah Ghoneim have been released, while Alaa Abd El Fattah, Ezz Darweish, and Muhammed Aladdin remain in custody. Aladdin’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

“The Sisi regime is engaged in a desperate but nonetheless brutal attempt to silence even the slightest expression of dissent, in a context where the space for free expression was already essentially nonexistent,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of Free Expression Programs. “The detention of writers, poets, bloggers, and journalists smacks of a deliberate attempt to silence any who might bear witness or give voice to the Egyptian people’s expressions of discontent. And the re-arrest of Alaa Abd El Fattah feels designed to add insult to injury – he was already in custody for 12 hours a day per the absurd terms of his prior release.”

The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has imprisoned over 2,000 people, many swept up without any apparent connection to the protests, and has blocked access to news sites and Facebook messenger.

“The shuttering of news sites and messaging apps is a clear attempt to block the people’s access to information and ability to communicate and organize,” said PEN America’s Lopez. “Under the merciless rule of President Trump’s ‘favorite dictator,’  these attacks on Egyptians’ most basic human rights are no surprise. That makes them no less repugnant. And the deafening silence from the White House is a disgrace. The Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained, and the Trump administration must use its influence to press for an end to this crackdown and a broader restoration of human rights in Egypt.”

Freedom of expression and the press in Egypt have deteriorated dramatically over the past five years under President 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.

PEN America has advocated for numerous Egyptian writers, journalists, and creative artists, including singer Galal El-Behairy, photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid (Shawkan), writer Ibrahim al-Husseini, and writer Ahmed Naji, the 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honoree. While Shawkan, al-Husseini, and Naji have been released, dozens of journalists, writers, and other artists are currently imprisoned in Egypt.  


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: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892