More than five years on from the protests that forced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to resign, Egypt is among the world’s worst jailers of writers and journalists. At least 20 writers were either imprisoned, detained or on trial in Egypt last year, while the first few months of 2016 have already seen a wave of further arrests. According to our colleagues the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt is now second only to China in jailing journalists, and prison sentences for writers have almost doubled since 2014.
One such writer – and the focus of the Worldwide Reading on 12 May 2016 – is the novelist Ahmed Naji who was sentenced to two years in prison on 20 February 2016. The sentence, for ‘violating public modesty’, relates to the publication of excerpts form his 2014 novel Istikhdam al-Haya (Using Life) in Akhbar al-Adab magazine. We believe the sentence to be in clear violation of his right to freedom of expression and are calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
Our event in London, co-hosted by Nadia Ait Said Ghanem and Valentina Viene, was just one of more than twenty five events which took place across the world in solidarity with Ahmed Naji.
As well as reading from Ben Koerber’s English translation of Naji’s novel Using Life, we also read the work of some of the many other writers and activists at risk in Egypt, dozens of whom have been sent to prison following the passage of a law banning peaceful protest in November 2013:
- Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah who was handed down a five-year prison setence during a retial in February 2015;
- Activist Sanaa Seif, El Fattah’s 22-year-old sister, who on 4 May 2016 was sentenced to six months in prison for ‘insulting the judiciary’, just months after being freed following a presidential pardon;
- Writer and librarian Omar Hazek who received a presidential pardon and was released in September 2015 but has since been barred from leaving Egypt;
- Poet and activist Shaima al-Sabbagh who died in January 2015 when hit by birdshot from a police shotgun during a peaceful protest in Tahrir Square.
Ahmed Naji and his fellow writers may be imprisoned, subject to restrictions, or in the most extreme cases have lost their lives, but we will not let them be silenced.
** Thank you to our readers Nadia Ait Said Ghanem, Ghazi Gheblawi, Robert Sharp and Stephen Watts and to SOAS for hosting.**
- Take part in the Day of Blogging for Ahmed Naji, 16-17 May 2016
- Please share details of Ahmed Naji’s case and this excerpt of his novel ‘Using Life‘ translated by Ben Koerber on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. #FreeAhmedNaji
- Send Ahmed Naji a message of support – contact [email protected] for more details
- Sign the petition hosted by our colleagues at PEN American Center calling for Ahmed Naji’s release
- Show your support for Egyptian writers and artists protesting the jailing of Ahmed Naji by adding your name here.
- Send appeals to the Egyptian authorities (details below)
- Expressing concern at the conviction and sentencing of author Ahmed Naji;
- Calling for the Egyptian authorities to quash his conviction and release Naji immediately and unconditionally;
- Calling also for the immediate and unconditional release of all other writers and journalists currently detained in Egypt in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, including blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and activist Sanaa Seif, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party.
Minister of Justice
Ahmed Ali Ibrahim el-Zend
Ministry of Justice
Salutation: Dear Minister
Please also send copies to the Embassy of Egypt in your country. You can find embassy addresses here