Writers, publishers and human rights groups are speaking out against the sentencing of publisher Khaled Lotfy to five years in prison by a military court for distributing an Arabic translation of a book by an Israeli author.
Lotfy, the founder of Tanmia Bookstores in Cairo, was arrested last April and initially sentenced to five years in prison by a military court in October 2018 on charges of publishing false news and divulging military secrets, according to a source close to his family. On February 13, a military court upheld the ruling. Lotfy’s defense team is considering submitting a petition to review the sentence, the source added.
The president of the Arab Publishers’ Association, Mohamed Rashad, told Mada Masr on Tuesday that the group was preparing a petition calling on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to “cancel or reduce” the five-year sentence against Lotfy.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has called on Sisi not to ratify the sentence. “The novel has been published in several countries,” the group said in a statement on Sunday. “And the freedom of publication is an essential part of the right to share information and seek knowledge that was stipulated in the international conventions ratified by the Egyptian state.”
The book in question, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Israeli author Uri Bar Joseph profiles Ashraf Marwan – former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law and a close advisor to former President Anwar Sadat – and alleges that he spied on Egypt for Israel. Egyptian authorities have long denied claims that Marwan betrayed his country and hail him as a hero, with former President Hosni Mubarak issuing a statement upon his death in 2007 saying, “I do not doubt his loyalty.”
The book was originally published in Arabic by the Lebanon-based Arab Scientific Publishers.
Saeed Abdu, president of the Egyptian Publishers’ Federation, said that there is no censorship of books in Egypt prior to publication. “Publishers self-censor content and determine what should be published, depending on their sense of security and their understanding of the political climate,” Abdu told Mada Masr.
Meanwhile, a group of writers have launched an online campaign to collect signatures in solidarity with Lotfy, describing the sentence against him as “unjust.”
“We believe in the freedom of publishing and consider the exercise of censorship and repression as part of the practice of repression and control of the minds of readers, who have the right and freedom to choose the books they want to read,” the statement says.
Lotfy is not the first publisher to be imprisoned in Egypt. According to attorney Mokhtar Mounir, a military court sentenced poet Galal al-Beheiry and Mohamed Anwar Hawas, director of the Daad Publishing House, to three years in prison last July after they published a collection of poems, “Kheir Neswan al-Ard,” on charges of insulting the military and spreading false news.