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Imprisoned Egyptian Writer Ahmed Naji To Receive PEN's Freedom to Write Award

The novelist and journalist, who was charged with "infringing public decency" for an excerpt from his book 'The Use of Life' which made reference to a sexual act, will be awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award by PEN America in May.

Egyptian novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji, arrested and imprisoned in 2014, will be given the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on May 16, PEN America announced yesterday March 31st

The 30-year-old writer is the author of three books: Rogers (2007), Seven Lessons Learned from Ahmed Makky (2009), and The Use of Life (2014), as well as numerous blogs and other articles.

Born in Mansoura, Naji is also a journalist for state-run literary magazine Akhbar al-Adab and frequently contributes to publications such as Al-Modon and Al-Masry Al-Youm. A vocal critic of corruption under the rule of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Naji was arrested in 2014, after Akhbar al-Adab published an excerpt from his third book, The Use of Life, for "infringing on public decency" and charged with a maximum of two years in prison.  

The sentence followed a case filed by Hani Saleh Tawfik, a 65-year-old Egyptian man who alleged that reading the book excerpt had caused him to experience heart palpitations, sickness, and a drop in blood pressure. The excerpt narrated a scene where the protagonist smokes hashish, drinks alcohol, and enjoys a sexual relationship with a woman.

PEN has given its Freedom to Write Award to imprisoned writers in various countries, including Saudi Arabia and Cuba. “Naji’s case is emblematic of Egypt’s escalating crackdown on artistic freedom in flagrant disregard for its own constitutional protections and at the expense of the country’s rich cultural traditions,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel on the organisation’s website. “PEN hopes that this award will spur writers, readers, advocates, and world leaders to press Egypt to release Naji immediately and to stop treating creativity as a crime.”

The number of Egyptian reporters behind bars is at an all-time high, according to a recent report from the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.