A Cairo court rejected Ahmed Naji’s request for a stay of execution on his two-year prison sentence, of which he has served six months, on Saturday.
In February a North Cairo court sentenced the 30-year-old writer to two years in prison for disturbing public morality in relation to the serialization of his novel Istikhdam al-Hayah (The Use of Life) in the state-affiliated Akhbar al-Adab literary journal last year.
The defense submitted an appeal to the prosecution in early July to halt the execution of the verdict for medical reasons.
Naji attended the session today and was surrounded by friends and acquaintances who took advantage of the opportunity to see him for the first time since he was detained six months ago, as only first-degree relatives are permitted to visit him.
Naji’s lawyer Mamoud Othman told Mada Masr that according to a newly issued law the defense team can appeal his verdict in an additional level of litigation before the case goes to the Court of Cassation for a final verdict.
The court’s reasoning for Naji’s sentencing was that he had intentionally committed the crime of public indecency through his fictional text.
“He has used foul terms and expressions and found pleasure in repeating them throughout the chapters of the novel,” the court stated.
The reasoning also argued that Naji neglected to take into account that freedom of expression has to fall within the framework of “the essential constructs of society including religion, traditions and moral values which are deeply rooted in the Egyptian society. The defendant has gone against these values with his poisonous novel by publishing its chapters in a state-owned publication.”
One of Naji’s close friends, Mahmoud Salem, an activist, said that it was emotional for him to see Naji for the first time since he was imprisoned.
“Up until he showed up in court, we weren’t sure if they were going to bring him,” he told Mada Masr. “We called everyone we know with connections to the prison to know whether he was going to be brought in or not.”
“It was hard to see him [in a court cage], but that’s the only way,” he added.
The case dates back to 2014, when a reader of Akhbar al-Adab filed a complaint claiming that he was “morally harmed” by chapter 6 of The Use of Life, due to its sexually explicit content. Based on the complaint, prosecution referred the case to court.
Both Naji and Tarek al-Taher, the chief editor of the journal, had been acquitted last January by the Bulaq Misdemeanors Court, but Naji was sentenced to the maximum two years in prison after the prosecution filed an appeal, and Taher was sentenced to a LE10,000 fine.
The day after the indictment, Naji’s defense team, the Journalists Syndicate and writers, intellectuals and artists made multiple attempts to halt the execution of the verdict, referring to the constitutional article that prohibits prison sentences in publishing crimes. International human rights organizations and literary groups also decried the sentence.
The appeal put together by the defense team pointed out that Articles 67 and 71 of Egypt’s Constitution protects writers, intellectuals and artists from being imprisoned for their work or for publishing crimes.