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18 August 2017 – PEN International stands in solidarity with the Egyptian writers and journalists who were dismissed from their work at a leading newspaper on 26 July 2017 due to the expression of an opinion that contradicted the official position of the Egyptian authorities.

The three journalists, Medhat Safwat, Abdel-Rahman Mekled and Maher Abdel-Wahed were subjected to arbitrary dismissal from their work at the newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba, due to their Facebook posts and signing an online statement. The latter asserted that the Tiran and Sanafir islands – which were recently handed over to Saudi Arabia by the Egyptian authorities – belonged to Egypt. The transfer of the Red Sea Islands has sparked controversy in Egypt and led to many human rights’ violations, including arrest and detention of many writers and journalists who protested or tried to protest against the Egyptian authorities’ decision. Among the arrested journalists was Mekled, who is also a prominent poet, and was reportedly released on bail on 17 July 2017 after four days of detention. Mekled was accused by the police of taking part in an illegal protest and insulting the president of the republic, but the fate of his case remains unknown.

The editor-in-chief of Al-Youm Al-Saba, Khaled Salah, reportedly informed the journalists of his decision to dismiss them during a meeting in which he explained that the Egyptian government had acquired the newspaper, and did not welcome opposition to its policies, notably on the issue of Tiran and Sanafir. Later, this same journal published an article accusing the three journalists of collaboration with a pro-Iranian journal, after they spoke out about their arbitrary dismissal from their work.

 “The dismissal of the Egyptian journalists is violating the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression. Free criticism of a government’s decisions and policy should be granted and accepted” – said Jennifer Clement PEN International’s President.

Safwat is also a political researcher and the author of a book entitled Power and interest as well as many articles published in several Arab newspapers. Through his writings, he has been promoting human rights and social justice. In one of his articles, he criticised the prohibition on mixed marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian man in Islamic countries, and called for the replacement of religious marriage with a civil one, which would respect the principles of a civil and modern state. Due to his controversial and thought-provoking writings, in particular criticising the strict interpretation of Islam by fundamentalist groups, he has been receiving death threats and insults over the past years.

In its 2016 resolution on Egypt, PEN International expressed its deep concern regarding the deterioration of free expression in Egypt in recent years; in particular the arbitrary detention of writers and governmental interference with the Journalists Syndicate and the work of journalists. PEN condemns the newspaper’s decision to dismiss the journalists and writers for their peaceful expression of their opinion and continues to call upon the Egyptian authorities to guarantee the independence of Egyptian writers, as well as to immediately release all writers, journalists, bloggers and activists detained for peacefully exercising their 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

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