Egyptian prosecution has referred two journalists to criminal court for publishing a "sexual flagrant article” in the state-owned cultural newspaper Akhbar Al-Adab last year. The decision caused an outcry among intellectuals who consider it a violation of freedom of expression.
Writer and journalist Ahmed Nagy and Tarek El-Taher, the editor-in-chief of Akhbar Al-Adab Newspaper (Literary News), will be tried on 14 November for public indecency and for publishing a "flagrant erotic article in which the charged writer published a text that spewed sexual lust and transient pleasures, using his mind and pen to violate public decency and good morals, inciting promiscuity," according to the prosecution's memo to the court.
While the prosecution describes Nagy's text as an article, it was in fact a chapter of Nagy’s novel entitled The Usage of Life. The text appeared in issue no. 1097 in Akhbar Al-Adab in August 2014.
The full novel was recently released by Tanweer publishing house in Cairo.
The memo continues, “The accused journalist violated the general morals, creating obscene scenes that illustrated the intimate meeting of the two sexes in public, and he continued to spread the poisons of his pen in a novel or an article until it fell into the hands of those near and far, the minor and the adult, until it was like a fly that only sees trash and focuses on it, spreading it [in the community] like wildfire."
The complaint that sparked these accusations was issued to the police last year by Hani Saleh Tawfik, a citizen who claimed that the text in question caused him “to experience heart palpitations and an extreme feeling of sickness along with a sharp drop in blood pressure” due to the indecency of the text.
"The public prosecution summoned me and Mr. Taher, the chief editor [to court]. Lawyers of the journalists’ syndicate and Akhbar Al-Youm, the owner of the Newspaper, accompanied us. I was told that I am being charged with public indecency and Mr. Taher is accused of failing to carry out his duties as editor-in-chief," Nagy said on his Facebook page.
According to Nagy, the prosecution and the plaintiff are insisting that the published text is an article and not a chapter of a novel, thus they believe that the actions of the protagonist took place in real life and that the excerpt was a kind of confession published under his name.
"I would like to assert that the published text is fictional and all the events and actions in it are from my imagination. It is not a journalistic essay and I'm asking my fellow journalists to explain this difference," Nagy said, adding that "the world is full of surprises and the distinction between reality and fiction has become very tiring.”
The decision has caused an outcry among intellectuals. Writer Mohammed Salmawy Tweeted "I can't believe that after two revolutions against tyranny and repression, a writer is still being punished for his work."
Novelist Mahmoud El-Wardani called for widespread solidarity with Nagy and Taher, adding, "This is a very dangerous trespassing on the freedom of expression. If we let this happen it will happen over and over again. It will not be the last time.”
Wardani clarifies what is wrong with the charges, saying, "the prosecution described the published text as an article when in fact it is not. This is a novel and that entails that everything that happens in the novel is just fiction. It does not have, and shouldn't have, any consequences for the writer. Art and literature are different from reality not making this distinction between fiction and reality is ignorance."
Wardani called on the intellectual community to attend the trial on 14 November, not only in solidarity but also to demand that they be charged with the same accusations directed at the two journalists.
The charges against Nagy and Taher are not new. A similar case sparked controversy in Egypt following the publication of a novel by Syrian writer Haidar Haidar in Egypt in 2000 entitled Walimah li A'ashabal-Bahr (A Feast for the Seaweeds), which brought charges of heresy and offending Islam against the writer and the renowned Egyptian late novelist Ibrahim Aslan, who was the chief editor of the series that the novel was published in.
The book was confiscated and Aslan faced charges, but the widespread solidarity with him made a difference and Aslan was never convicted.
The trial and confiscation of the book had the opposite of what the Islamists who pressed charges wanted, the book gained huge fame and the price for a copy went from 7 L.E to 100 L.E within days.
Editor-in-chief of Al-Kahera cultural newspaper, Sayed Mahmoud, considered the trial as a "real disaster that requires immediate legal solidarity with the two journalists." He added that this is "a specialised newspaper, which speaks to a certain sector of readers who can judge what they read and don't need courts to tell them what they should read."
Independent website Za2ed18.com (Plus18), republished the text on Sunday in solidarity with Nagy.