Steamy novel lands Egyptian novelist in jail

Steamy novel lands Egyptian novelist in jail
Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison after publishing a "sexually explicit" excerpt of his novel 'Using Life' in a literary supplement.
4 min read
21 February, 2016

An Egyptian novelist and journalist has been sentenced to two years in prison for publishing "sexually explicit content" in state-owned newspaper Akhbar al-Adab in 2014.

Ahmed Naji was immediately arrested after the verdict, due to his writings promoting "transient lust" after a tract of his novel Using Life was published in a literary supplement

He was given the maximum penalty for the crime, his lawyer Mahmoud Othman told Egyptian website Mada Masr on Saturday.

Tarek al-Taher, editor-in-chief of Akhbar al-Adab which published the tract was also ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds ($1,277).

The verdict, which Othman said was final, followed an appeal filed by the prosecution after both defendants were cleared of all charges in January.

In its initial acquittal ruling, the court said the penal code was too rigid to apply to matters of self-expression, citing a lack of "malicious intent" from Naji. 

The two journalists were originally referred to the misdemeanor court last year and stood in trial for the first time on 14 November 2015.

Naji was accused of violating public morals and modesty after publishing "poisonous writings" that promoted "transient lust", leading to "temptation and promiscuity", the prosecutor said.

The initial legal complaint was filed against Naji and Taher by one of the newspaper's readers, known as Hani Saleh Tawfik.

The plaintiff claimed that the indecency of the text in question caused his "heartbeat to fluctuate, along with a sharp drop in blood pressure".

The text in question is a chapter of Naji's novel, Using Life, published in Akhbar al-Adab in August 2014.

In solidarity with the imprisoned writer, many websites have re-published his excerpt, including an English translation by Ben Koerber on ArabLit, a leading blog on Arabic literature in translation.

The verdict was also condemned by fellow writers and journalists, as well as readers, scholars and human rights advocates.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights [EIPR] denounced the state institutions' "continuous and flagrant violation" of the Egyptian constitution, which guarantees the freedom of artistic and literary creativity.

Translation: The verdict against Naji is an alarming threat against the Egyptian people's freedom of creativity.

"The continuation of such policies will further block the relation between intellectuals and the authorities," EIPR said in a statement on Sunday.

"It will also expose the authorities' false claim of believing in the freedom of opinion, creativity and acceptance of others."

Scholars, writers, readers and others have also turned to social media to express solidarity with Naji, using the Arabic-language hashtag "against prosecuting imagination".

Translation: I am more than willing to take part in any initiative by the journalists syndicate or the intellectuals to support Ahmed Naji.

Translation: In Egypt, you are not even allowed to have imagination, as it would offend those who do not find torture and murder offensive.

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy has launched an online petition to show solidarity with Naji and denounce Egypt's prosecution of creativity and freedom of expression.

"We, the undersigned scholars, novelists, journalists, artists, and others, write to express our unequivocal condemnation of the two-year prison sentence handed down to Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji," the petition read.

"We express our solidarity and commitment to Naji and to all of our Egyptian counterparts who face attacks on their freedom of expression."

The petition, which has gathered more than 500 out of its 1,000 signatures goal, described the prison sentence as a "travesty for freedom of expression and justice".

"[The verdict] comes in the context of a broader crackdown that has seen the detention of academics at airports, the harassment of cartoonists for their artwork, and the raiding of publishing houses and art spaces," it added.

The petition was referring to the cases of Ismail Alexandrani, an Egyptian journalist and human rights activist who was detained at Hurghada airport in November for reportedly "releasing false news" and "joining a banned group", and Islam Gawish, an Egyptian cartoonist who was arrested from his Cairo office in January on charges of "drawing anti-regime cartoons".