(New York) – Following Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy’s announcement that he was starting a new hunger strike from prison, PEN America issued the following statement:

“Galal El-Behairy’s ordeal over the past five years is a testament both to his strength and the Egyptian government’s ultimate weakness: they are bending every rule, including the principles of human rights and the rule of law, to silence a song,” Justin Shilad, PEN America’s research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

“El-Behairy’s continued imprisonment, despite the completion of his sentence and the exhaustion of his pretrial detention limit, show the abuses heaped upon untold numbers of Egyptians for their peaceful expression. It also highlights once again, how far the government will go to stamp out not only dissent but all of Egypt’s cultural life. Egyptian authorities must release Galal El-Behairy immediately and unconditionally.”

In March 2023, El-Behairy started a hunger strike to mark five years since he was detained in 2018 for writing the  lyrics to Egyptian musician Ramy Essam’s song “Balaha” and for the release of his poetry collection, “The Finest Women on Earth.” El-Behairy escalated his hunger strike in June to include not drinking water before suspending it. 

On September 5, El-Behairy announced a new hunger strike to mark two years since the completion of his three year sentence; he has been detained pending trial on new charges since. Earlier this summer, El-Behairy’s legal representation, Avant Garde Lawyers, urged the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to act on his case.

Galal El-Behairy is one of 10 writers behind bars in Egypt according to PEN America’s 2022 Freedom to Write Index, which ranks Egypt eighth on its list of top 10 countries of concern.

About PEN America

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. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Dietlind Lerner, [email protected]