26 May 2017
PEN International welcomes the decision by the Egyptian Court of Cassation to vacate Ahmed Naji’s two-year prison sentence, but remains deeply concerned by the decision to order a retrial. PEN International calls for Naji’s full acquittal and calls on Egyptian authorities to respect and protect Naji’s right to freedom of expression.
Naji was sentenced to two-years in prison and handed a 10 thousand Egyptian pounds (approx. US$ 1200) in February 2016 for ‘violating public modesty’ in relation to his book The Use of Life, which was considered to include ‘obscene sexual content’. Naji served 10 months of his sentence before being released on 22 December 2016 when the Egyptian Court of Cassation temporarily suspended the sentence.
At a later hearing on 21 May 2017, the Egyptian Court of Cassation repealed his two-year prison sentence and ordered his retrial before a new tribunal, the date of which is yet to be set. Naji remains out of prison although he faces a travel ban.
‘Ahmed Naji has published a novel, and if anyone has objection to the content of the novel, the person has the freedom to offer a critique and indeed the freedom to avoid reading it. By prosecuting him with the prospect of a jail sentence, Egypt will be seeking to silence a critical, uncomfortable voice, and in doing so, violate the right freedom of expression. It should let Naji be free to write.’ Salil Tripathi, Chair, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.
The Use of Life is a hybrid novel comprising graphic, prose and fictional elements. The novel’s major theme of sex and sexuality is narrated through the character of Bassam. Chapter six of the novel was published in the magazine Akhbar al-Adab, and includes a description of sex and drug use.
PEN International has been campaigning on behalf of Ahmed Naji since his arrest and will continue to call for him to be able to able to exercise his fundamental right to freedom of expression.
For any further information, please contact Nael Georges, PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | Email: Nael.Georges@pen-international.org