Egyptian lawyer challenges law that allows authorities to jail writers

Egyptian human rights activist Nasser Amin (L) and journalist and writer Mohammed Solmawi (R) attend a press conference at the Journalist Syndicate headquarters in the capital Cairo. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

CAIRO – An Egyptian lawyer on Saturday challenged a law that allows writers to be jailed for violating public morals, requesting the suspension of a case against an author on trial for work that prosecutors say is sexually explicit.

Nasser Amin made the motion in court during the trial of Ahmed Naji, who faces up to two years in jail and a fine up to 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,245) if found guilty of violating a law that says individuals can be punished for publishing material contrary to public morals.

Amin requested a constitutional court review the law, citing two articles in the constitution that prohibit imprisonment for published material, except for cases that encourage violence, are discriminatory and in incidents of defamation.

The case stems from an excerpt of Naji’s novel, “The Use of Life,” published in Akhbar al-Adab magazine in August 2014. It contains explicit sex acts and references to habitual hashish use by the characters.

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The prosecution insisted the excerpt be treated as a work of journalism.

Amin linked the prosecution to a crackdown in Egypt over the past two years against Islamists following the July 2013 military ouster of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said authorities usually target secular artists and writers following crackdowns on Islamists to show they are as virtuous.

“Outside this hall … is a repressive authority which claims it is protecting the homeland and virtue from (the Islamists),” he said. “Each of them tries to overstate over the other who is the more protective of virtue and morals.”

Amin served as an alternate member of the committee that drafted Egypt’s current constitution.

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