Woody Allen was among 120 authors who signed a PEN letter to President Sisi expressing that writing isn't a crime, and that jailed Egyptian author Ahmed Naji should be released.
Egyptian artists and journalists continue to suffer from a crackdown on freedom of expression, and coming to their defense is the freedom of expression advocacy group PEN, who on Sunday drafted and sent an open letter to President Sisi urging the release of Ahmed Naji.
Signed by over 120 renowned artists, including legendary director and author Woody Allen, PEN America sent their letter ahead of their annual Literary Gala. At the gala, the advocacy group will be honouring Ahmed Naji in absentia with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award for the struggles faced by the notable Egyptian author.
In February, Naji was sentenced to two years in Tora prison for ‘violating public decency’ after a chapter referring to sex and drugs from his novel, The Use of Life, was published by Akhbar El-Adab state-owned newspaper.
The letter explicitly states: "Writing is not a crime. As you know, Egypt’s 2014 Constitution protects freedom of expression under Art. 65. In addition, Art. 67 expressly protects freedom of artistic and literary creation and forbids the jailing of writers and artists for publishing their work. The charges against Mr. Naji, brought under Art. 178 of Egypt’s Penal Code, directly contravene these constitutional provisions. Indeed, after Mr. Naji was sentenced, seven members of the 2014 constitutional drafting committee criticized his punishment as unconstitutional. We urge you to amend Art. 178 of the Penal Code to bring it into compliance with the constitution, and to immediately free Mr. Naji. Such an amendment would also be a welcome sign that Egypt is consolidating the freedoms enumerated in its new constitution."
Sharing this belief are some of the biggest names in the literary world, including Michael Chabon, Woody Allen, Stephen Sondheim, among other literary stars choosing to sign the letter.
The timing of the letter couldn’t be better as freedom of expression continues to worsen in Egypt, which according to Committee to Protect Journalist has landed Egypt second only to China for jailing writers.
To see the full letter and those supporting the call for Naji release click here.