Egypt: In Wake of Legal Setback, PEN America Renews Call for Release of Ahmed Naji
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—The denial this weekend of Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji’s motion to stay his two-year sentence perpetuates the injustice of punishing a writer for the exercise of free expression, PEN America said today. As a result of the recent judgment, Naji, the recipient of PEN America’s 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, continues to serve a two-year sentence for “violating public modesty” with his writing.
Ahmed Naji, an Egyptian novelist and journalist, was charged under Article 178 of the Penal Code, which penalizes artists who defame public morals, after a 65-year-old man brought a complaint alleging that Naji’s book The Use of Life had caused the man heart palpitations. The Use of Life, Naji’s third book, was previously approved by Egypt’s censorship authority. In the book, the narrator smokes hashish, drinks alcohol, and engages in a sexual relationship. Prosecutors argued that the use of “vulgar” phrases and sexually explicit scenes represented a “disease” destroying Egyptian moral values.
Naji was acquitted of the charge in January 2016, but the prosecution appealed his sentence. In February 2016, the appeals court found Naji guilty and sentenced him to two years in prison—the maximum sentence. Naji and his defense team have appealed his verdict before the Court of Cassation, but a court date has not yet been set. While awaiting the scheduling of his appeal, Naji and his defense team filed a motion to stay his sentence pending appeal. On July 16, Naji’s motion was denied. This recent second motion to stay, heard on August 27, was also denied. As a result, Naji will remain in detention pending a successful appeal.
“Ahmed Naji has been imprisoned for telling a story. This is a clear case where a writer has been punished for his free expression,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s Executive Director. “The refusal to stay his two-year sentence is another blow not only against Ahmed and his family, but against creative expression in Egypt.”
Over 600 Egyptian writers, and an additional 120 writers from around the world—including such well-known figures as JK Rowling, Philip Roth, Patti Smith, and Woody Allen—have signed onto letters of support for Naji. In May, PEN America awarded Ahmed Naji its Freedom to Write Award, noting that “His jail sentence for a crime of the imagination flouts the rule of law and is yet another blow to the dynamic literary and arts scene in Egypt.”
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression at home and abroad. 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. Learn more at PEN.org
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: +1 646-779-4830, [email protected]