PEN protests the two-year prison sentence handed to Egyptian poet Omar Hazek, who has been held in custody since his arrest in early December 2013 for taking part in a protest. Omar Hazek was held in Hadra prison in Alexandria until February 21, 2014, when he was moved to Burj Al-Arab prison also in Alexandria, where he remains held. PEN believes that the poet Omar Hazek is imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly, and therefore calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

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Background Information

Omar el Hazek is a writer of international acclaim and was formerly employed by the Library of Alexandria in Alexandria Egypt. His publications include a collection of poetry in Arabic and English entitled Nota - Skies of Freedom (Egypt 2011), which he co-published with Syrian poet Abdelwahhab Azzawi and two other poets from Italy and Portugal. Omar Hazek won the title Poet of Romance in the TV classical poetry competition “Prince of Poets” in 2007, organized by the Abu Dhabi Organization for Culture and Heritage.

Since the overthrow of President Mubarak in February 2011, Omar Hazek has been outspoken in his allegations of corruption in the Library of Alexandria, whose official head of the board of trustees was former first lady Suzanne Mubarak. Her close associate, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, remains the Director of the Library despite multiple calls for his resignation over alleged abuse of funds and power, and an ongoing investigation into allegations of misappropriation of state funds. During 2011, Omar Hazek produced some 15 articles alleging corruption at the Library, but in spite of an investigation by the District Attorney’s office which recommended that Serageldin should be prosecuted, no action was taken and Serageldin remains in the post.

Omar Hazek was arrested on December 4, 2013, along with a number of other activists for "protesting without permission" in front of the Alexandria Criminal Court in solidarity with the family of Khalid Said during a re-trial of his alleged killers. Khalid Said was beaten to death in police custody in 2010, and his death sparked anti-government protests. Omar Hazek was initially charged with beating a policeman, destroying a police vehicle, and carrying weapons, among other things, though these charges were subsequently dropped. PEN is unaware of any other information suggesting that Omar Hazek used or advocated violence.

In January 2014, Omar Hazek and three other activists were sentenced by the lower court to two years’ imprisonment and a 50,000 EGP (equivalent to US$7000) fine for violating a new law for the regulation of demonstrations that prohibits demonstrations without written permission from the Ministry of Interior. On February 16, 2014, the Alexandria Appeal Court upheld their sentences. The only remaining course of legal redress is to bring a case in the Court of Cassation challenging the constitutionality of the protest law.

After mass protests on June 30, 2013, against the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party of President Mohamed Morsi who had come to power through democratic elections one year earlier, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed President Morsi on July 3, 2013. Constitutional Court judge Adly Mansour was appointed as interim president. Mansour issued a Constitutional Declaration setting out a road map, which included drafting a new constitution and elections. A new constitution came into effect on January 18, 2014, after a national referendum, which provides improved provisions for freedom of expression and bolsters press freedom.

However, the situation on the ground has seen widespread violence, with peaceful protests violently suppressed by police and thousands arrested for their alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned in September 2013 and declared a terrorist group on December 25, 2013, the day after a new anti-terror law was passed. Hundreds, including Omar Hazek, have also been arrested under the repressive new protest law issued by the interim president, Adly Mansour, on November 24, 2013. Provisions of the law exceed permissible restrictions on the right to protest peacefully.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing concern about the recent crackdown on journalists, writers, and activists in Egypt, in particular the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of poet and activist Omar Hazek, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release;
  • Calling on the authorities to uphold the right to legitimate expression and peaceful assembly in accordance with their obligations as laid out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party;
  • Urging them to ensure that Article 7 of the Constitutional Declaration, which provides for limitations on freedom of expression through speech, writing, pictures, or other means “according to the law” is not used to impose restrictions which exceed those that may be imposed under international law.

Send Your Letter To

Interim president Adly Mansour
Supreme Constitutional Court
Kournish El-Nile El-Maddi
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202-795-8048

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Egypt
Colonel General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
23 July Street.,
AlKobba Bridge,
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: + 20-22916227

If possible please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Egypt in your country.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after April 20, 2014.***