Jailed Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji to receive PEN award

Jailed Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji to receive PEN award
2 min read
01 April, 2016
Ahmed Naji, who received a two-year prison sentence in Egypt over publishing "sexually explicit content" in a literary magazine, will receive the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
Naji received a two-year sentence over 'sexually explicit content' [Facebook]

An imprisoned Egyptian author and journalist is being given the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, presented by PEN America.

Ahmed Naji will be honoured by PEN, a literary society and human rights organisation comprising thousands of writers, editors and translators, at its annual gala in Manhattan on 16 May.

Naji received a two-year sentence in February for "destroying social values" - an allegation tied to the content of his novel Using Life.

The 30-year-old author has written three books and is a contributor to the state-owned Akhbar al-Adab literary magazine, among other publications.

His trial came after Akhbar al-Adab released an excerpt in 2014 from Using Life that contained explicit sex acts and references to habitual drug use.

The complaint against Naji originated when a reader of Akhbar al-Adab alleged that the excerpt made him physically ill.

"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," PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel told The Associated Press.

"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."

Egyptian writers, artists and filmmakers have denounced the jailing of Naji, which followed a one-year sentence handed to TV presenter and researcher Islam Behery for "defaming religious symbols", and three years to writer Fatima Naoot for allegedly defaming Islam.

"The continuation of such policies will further block the relation between intellectuals and the authorities," the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said in a statement.

PEN has given its Freedom to Write Award to jailed writers everywhere from Saudi Arabia to Cuba. Established in 1987, the prize is for writers "who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for their right to freedom of expression".

Other award recipients include JK Rowling for inspiring children worldwide to read and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and LeeAnne Walters for their efforts in exposing the lead contamination in the water of Flint, Michigan. PEN will also cite Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group, for his leadership in fighting censorship.