Four hundred copies of Walls of Freedom are still being held by the customs authority more than two months after their confiscation, according to its publisher and distributor.
The latter plans to take legal action to secure their release, according to a joint statement the two companies released this week.
The state’s confiscation of the crowd-funded book documenting Egypt’s revolutionary graffiti made headlines in February. The copies were confiscated that month from storage at Alexandria’s customs, where they had been kept since arriving in the country in July 2014, according to Ahmed Selim, head of the Publications Censorship Authority.
After the books had been left for months due to administrative issues between the book’s publishers in Germany, From Here to Fame Publishing, and its distributor Dar Al-Tanweer, it seemed that someone from customs opened the cartons and found the book’s content problematic.
At the time, Selim told Mada Masr that he had not ordered a ban on the book, as it had already been approved and on the market for more than a year. Wassem Hussein Aldanaf, head of the Alexandria branch of the Publications Censorship Authorities, also announced to the media that the book had no violations and nothing justifying its banning or confiscation.
But privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm had quoted Ahmed al-Sayyad, the Finance Ministry’s undersecretary, as saying that the book “instigates revolt” and “gives advice on confronting the police and army forces.”
Two separate cases were filed, then combined into one report from the Mina al-Basal Police Station to follow up on the complaint. Based on this report, the general prosecution office ordered the books’ confiscation pending further investigation.
“Until now, Dar Al-Tanweer’s legal team has not been allowed to see the reports to find out about any irregularities or violations that are connected with the content of the book except for what has been published in the media regarding alleged incitement against the army and the police,” reads the statement Dar Al-Tanweer and From Here to Fame sent to the press.
It says Dar Al-Tanweer has paid all the overdue charges to the customs authority.
It explains that the General Prosecution at Mina al-Basal police station set up a committee of three members of three offices from three divisions: Protection of Public Funds, Smuggling and Customs. The committee was meant to take samples of the book and relevant documents to the Ministry of Culture’s General Directorate for the Censorship of Artistic Works.
However, this body is not the state body responsible for overseeing the content of publications, and it has stated so in a press release. This falls under the responsibility of Selim, within the Publications Censorship Authority.
“This amounts to nothing less than a violation of the authority of the Printed Materials Censorship Authority, which has submitted its report to the Cabinet of Ministers stating that the book contains no violations,” the statement reads. “Dar Al-Tanweer asks the Cabinet and the Ministry of Information, under which the Printed Materials Censorship Authority operates, to intervene and to take the responsibility of releasing the books, a move which strengthens the rule of law as well as freedom of expression.”
“Based on all of the above Dar Al-Tanweer notes that it will go forward in using all the legal means available in order to secure the release of the confiscated books,” they say. “The committee that was setup by the general prosecution has no legal or professional basis.”
The book, authored by Don Karl and Basma Hamdy, was staunchly supported by Egyptian graffiti artists such as Aya Tarek, Ganzeer and Ammar Abo Bakr. It contains images documenting graffiti over the three years following the revolution, along with 20 essays in English on the post-revolution street art movement, documenting both political and social works.