Artists seek release of jailed Egyptian writer
NEW YORK - Agence France-PresseMore than 120 writers, journalists and artists around the world have urged Egypt’s president to free a novelist jailed for two years over a sexually explicit scene in a book.
The signatories, who are also demanding that novelist Ahmed Naji be acquitted, include the writers Robert Caro and Philip Roth, film director Woody Allen and composer Stephen Sondheim, said Pen America, an organization that defends freedom of expression.
Naji was jailed in February after an Egyptian court ruled that his novel “The Guide for Using Life” offended public decency.
A chapter of it was published in a state-owned newspaper and the Egyptian censorship board had approved the book.
Naji will be honored May 16 at the annual PEN Literary Gala New York City. His brother Mohamed will accept the award on his behalf, Pen America said.
“Writing is not a crime,” reads the letter to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It says Egypt’s constitution protects freedom of expression. The jailing of Naji is “emblematic of the Egyptian government’s deeply troubling crackdown on free expression.”
Naji, who has written three novels and works at the literary review Akhbar al-Adab, is an outspoken critic of the government. He went on trial after a reader of the literary review complained that a passage in “The Guide for Using Life” containing explicit reference to sex and drug use had caused the reader to feel physically ill. He was acquitted at first but prosecutors and appealed and won.
Sex and drugs are “subjects so relevant to contemporary life that they are addressed through creative expression worldwide, and clearly fall within Egypt’s constitutional protections for artistic freedom,” the letter said.
The case comes more than two and a half years after then army chief el-Sisi overthrew president Mohamed Morsi, accusing him of imposing an Islamist agenda on the country.