The sentencing of Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji to two years in prison for “violating public modesty” is a direct attack on writers that underscores the dire state of free expression in the country, PEN America said today.

An Egyptian citizen brought charges against Mr. Naji claiming that an excerpt from his book The Use of Life contained sexually explicit material that caused the individual to experience heart palpitations and a drop in blood pressure. The excerpt from The Use of Life, which had been approved by Egypt’s censorship board, was published in the state-run literary review Akhbar al-Adab in August 2014. An initial ruling against Mr. Naji was overturned in January 2016, but after the prosecution appealed, Mr. Naji was sentenced to the maximum prison term of two years for “violating public modesty.” In addition, the court fined Akhbar al-Adab editor Tarek El Taher approximately $1,250. The Egyptian Constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of artistic and literary creation, freedom of thought and opinion, and freedom of the press.

“Sentencing Mr. Naji to two years in prison for the act of writing a book is a direct and flagrant contravention of Egypt’s constitution,” said Katy Glenn Bass, deputy director of PEN’s free expression programs. “This ruling is yet another example of the government’s ongoing demolition of the right to free expression, which has seen the arbitrary arrests of writers and journalists and the raiding of publishing houses and cultural centers in recent years.”


Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of 4,400 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.

Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: [email protected], +1.646.779.4830