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Take Action for Fatima Naoot on International Women’s Day

Fatima Naoot (Egypt) is a poet and former parliamentary candidate, having run for a parliamentary seat in late 2015. As well as being the chief editor of the literary magazine Qaws Qazah (The Rainbow), she is also a regular columnist and writer for a range of magazines and newspapers across Egypt and the Middle East. She has published 21 books, including seven poetry anthologies, and has translated authors such as Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth.

In December 2014 Naoot was referred for trial, accused of ‘contempt of religion’, ‘spreading sectarian strife’, and ‘disturbing public peace’ for a post she made on her Facebook page in October 2014, which criticised the tradition of slaughtering animals for Eid-al-Adha. The Eid-al-Adha festival celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his first-born son to obey God. Naoot also published a similarly critical article for the daily El-Masry El-Youm.

During her trial, which began on 28 January 2015, Naoot acknowledged that she had written the post but denied that her intention was to insult Islam. On 26 January 2016 Fatima was sentenced to three years in jail and handed a fine of LE20,000 (about $2,550). An appeal hearing is set for March 2016, and Naoot remains free.

TAKE ACTION

Send Appeals:

  • Calling on the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against journalist Fatima Naoot immediately and unconditionally;
  • Urging them to ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Egypt is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a state party.

It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Egypt in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here.

PUBLICITY

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the situation about freedom of expression in Egypt.
  • Organise public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations.
  • Share information about Egypt and your campaigning activities for Fatima Naoot via social media.

SOLIDARITY

  • Elect Fatima Naoot as an Honorary Member of your Centre and by doing so provide long term support and advocacy for her and her family. For details of the PEN International Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack  (Part V, pgs 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Centre is networked with others working on the case.

Please let us know about your activities and send us a report about them by 21 April 2016 so that we can share them with other centres.

Addresses:

President of EgyptPresident
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Office of the President
Al Ittihadia Palace
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202 2 391 1441
Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg
Moh_moussa@op.gov.eg
Salutation: Your Excellency
Twitter: @alsisiofficial
Prime Minister
Sherif Ismail
Magles El Shaab St., Kasr El Aini St.Cairo
Email: primemin@idsc.gov.eg
 
And copies to:
Secretary General, National Council for Human Rights
69 Giza Street, next to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Giza, Egypt
 

Background

Fatima Naoot ran as an independent candidate in the 2015 parliamentary elections for a Heliopolis seat. She reportedly said that she was running for a seat in order to stop Salafi parties from ‘rewriting the constitution.’

On 20 February 2016 Egyptian author Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for ‘violating public modesty’ with some of the content in his new book, whilst the editor of the newspaper in which the novel was published, Tarek al-Taher, was fined LE10,000 (around $1,280). The Egyptian censorship authority had previously approved the novel, ‘The Use of Life’, but a reader complained after a chapter of the book was published in Akhbar Al Adab newspaper. The trial began in November 2015 and the two were acquitted in January 2016, but were then found guilty by an appeals court after the prosecution appealed.

In December 2015 the Muslim scholar Islam el-Beheiry was sentenced to one year in prison for ‘blasphemy’ after calling for reforms in ‘traditional Islamic discourse’ on his television programme ‘With Islam’. He was initially sentenced in May 2015 to five years in prison but this was reduced to one year after he appealed the sentence. This came after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for reforms in traditional interpretations of faith. Naoot reportedly said, in regards to her sentence, that she is ‘sad that the efforts of the reformists have been wasted.’

Karam Saber, author and land rights activist, is facing a possible five-year prison sentence after conviction of ‘insulting religion’ in his 2010 book of short stories entitled Where is God? His May 2013 conviction was upheld on appeal in June 2014; Saber remains free pending a ruling by the Court of Cassation.

Rights groups say that the crackdown launched by President al-Sisi has muzzled freedom of speech. They also suggest that those seen as ‘insulting Islam’ have been targeted by the state and charged with offences ranging from ‘blasphemy’ to ‘contempt of religion’, although this has been happening since before President al-Sisi came to power. According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egyptian courts have jailed 27 out of 42 defendants charged with contempt of religion between 2011 and 2013. The organisation also says that it has documented 12 defendants jailed on such charges since the start of 2015, with at least another 11 cases pending before the courts. The Government denies accusations that it hinders freedom of speech or belief and says that it is committed to democracy.

For further information please contact Lianna Merner at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill Mews, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: lianna.merner@pen-international.org

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