An Egyptian court yesterday ordered a retrial for novelist Ahmed Naji, who spent 10 months in prison for “violating public modesty” with an excerpt from his book Use of Life which was reprinted in the state-owned Akhbar al-Adab newspaper. Naji had been sentenced to two years, but was released from prison in December pending an appeal.
Use of Life is an experimental work that incorporates visual elements, including comics drawn by Ayman al-Zorkany. A 65-year-old reader filed charges claiming that the excerpt caused him to have heart palpitations, a drop in blood pressure, and severe illness because of its references to sexual acts and drug use. In addition to Naji’s prison sentence, the newspaper’s editor Tarek el-Taher also received a fine equivalent to about $1,300.
The Cairo Court of Cassation ruled yesterday that Naji must be retried in a different court from the one that originally convicted him. Egypt’s new constitution, ratified in 2014 three years after the Tahrir Square uprising and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, guarantees freedom of expression in Article 67:
Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed. Every individual has the right to express an opinion and to disseminate it verbally, in writing or as an illustration, or by any other means of expression or publication.
One of Naji’s lawyers, Mahmoud Othman, has previously urged the courts to “respect the constitution so it’s not just ink on paper.” The retrial has not yet been scheduled, but we will be watching closely!
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.