NEW YORK—The Egyptian authorities’ decision to stop previously-imprisoned novelist Ahmed Naji from traveling outside the country, despite the fact that his conviction has been overturned, represents yet another ordeal for a novelist who has been punished for his literary work, PEN America said today.

On July 6, 2017, Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji was stopped while attempting to fly out of Cairo International Airport and brought to a police station, before being informed that the public prosecutor’s office has determined he is banned from leaving the country. Naji has since submitted a request to the public prosecutor to have his name removed from the no travel list, and was told that his request had been registered and he should return in two weeks.

Ahmed Naji, the author of three books and a journalist at the state-funded Akhbar al-Adab literary magazine, is part of a young and inventive cohort of Egyptian writers, artists, and illustrators. In February 2016, Naji was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for “violating public modesty” after a man alleged that content within Naji’s latest novel, The Use of Life (Istikhdam al-Hayat), had caused the man to experience heart palpitations. In December 2016, his prison term was suspended, although it was at that point that he was banned from leaving the country. In May 2017, an appeals court overturned the original decision under which Naji was convicted, but ordered the case to be re-tried.

In a personal statement made on Facebook after being informed of the travel ban against him, Naji wrote that the travel ban “comes despite the verdict by the court which accepted the appeal against my two-year sentence, and me being declared innocent of the charge of violating public morality . . . I am in a terrible state to be honest, and I don’t know what else to do . . . there are pressing personal and financial reasons that necessitate my travel as soon as possible.”

“Naji has been subjected to a years-long ordeal due to accusations over a work of fiction. This travel ban, which apparently remains in place despite Naji’s conviction having been overturned, adds insult to injury,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director at PEN America. “Just as Naji should be free to express himself as a novelist, so should he be free to travel. We call on the Egyptian authorities to act immediately to ensure Naji’s right to travel and to drop any other restrictions against him.”

Naji’s trial and imprisonment for his literary work unleashed a storm of outrage among his fellow writers and journalists in Egypt and around the world. In May 2016, he was honored with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award by PEN America, which has consistently advocated for all charges against Naji to be dropped.


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.

James Tager, Free Expression Programs Manager: [email protected], +1 858.472.1471