Today, an Egyptian court suspended novelist Ahmed Naji’s two-year sentence, a victory for literary expression in Egypt, PEN America said in a statement.

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 2015, Naji was charged with “violating public modesty” after a private citizen complained that Naji’s latest novel, previously approved by the Egypt Censorship Board, caused him distress. A trial court found Naji not guilty, but prosecutors appealed to a higher court that in February 2016 delivered a guilty verdict and imposed the maximum sentence of two years in prison.

Naji’s sentence galvanized widespread outcry among Egypt’s artists and intellectuals striving to hold open the narrowing space for expression and dissent under the rule of Egyptian General Abdel Fata el-Sisi. In May, Naji was honored with the 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award by PEN America. Of the 40 winners of this annual award since the early 1990s, Naji will be the 37th to be freed due in part to the publicity and pressure generated by the Award.

“The Egyptian court finally awoke to the travesty of justice entailed in jailing a novelist for a work of fiction,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “The mobilization of leading writers in Egypt and all over the world who demanded Naji’s freedom is a clarion call to repressive regimes that train their sights on those who dare to speak out and to create.”

Naji is expected to be released from prison on Monday. He returns to court on January 1, 2017, for a decision on his pending appeal.


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.

Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: [email protected], +1646.779.4830