Novelist Ahmed Naji isn’t the only Egyptian who’s been jailed on risible charges, but his case — in which he was jailed yesterday for two years for harming public morality — deeply touches the right of Egyptian authors and artists to keep publishing:
Head of the Dar Merit publishing house Mohamed Hashem called on writers and readers to attend an open meeting at Merit on Monday at 4 p.m. “to coordinate writers’ and artists’ efforts” to defend freedom of expression.
Dar Tanweer Publishing will also hold a solidarity event on Wednesday which will include former Minister of Culture Gaber Asfour, head of the Egyptian Writers Union Mohamed Salmawy, and world-renowned writer Sonallah Ibrahim.
Writers from many corners of Egypt’s literary scene came out on Naji’s behalf: from those like Nael Eltoukhy whose work, like Naji’s, also bends literary convention; to cartoonists and graphic novelists like Magdy al-Shafie (right) and Andeel (whose cartoon about the “dignity of society” is a direct challenge to the ruling); to more august Egyptian writers like Ibrahim Abdelmeguid; to other journalist-novelists like Mansoura Ezz Eldin; to publishers like Sherif Joseph Rizk; to journalists and critics like Sayed Mahmoud; to popular comedian Bassem Youssef.
The The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), along with “scholars, novelists, journalists, artists, and others,” almost immediately issued a petition to “express our unequivocal condemnation of the two-year prison sentence handed down to Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji today, February 20, 2016.”
The petition notes:
Under Article 67 of the Constitution, freedom of artistic and literary creativity is guaranteed; further, under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Egypt is obligated to respect the rights of all citizens to freedom of expression. Additionally, the text of Article 178 of the Penal Code, under which Naji was sentenced, is unconstitutionally broad and allows for immense discretion and varied interpretations that allow for the violation of basic rights and freedoms.
It further notes that as “a subjective term that carries distinctly varied meanings for different people, ‘public morals’ cannot be a basis for prosecution.”