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Journalist facing trial says creativity in Egypt is in ‘crisis’

CAIRO, Nov. 1 (Aswat Masriya) - Journalist Ahmed Naje who is on trial for publishing an article containing "obscene sexual content" told Aswat Masriya on Sunday that the decision does not surprise him given the permanent "hostility" that prosecutors display towards the press. 

Naje and the editor-in-chief of weekly literary magazine Akhbar Al-Adab, run by the state-owned Akhbar Al-Youm news organisation were referred to court by prosecutors on Saturday. 

His crime was publishing a chapter from his novel "Use of Life" last August. Set in Cairo, the novel tells the story of Bassam, a man lost inside a "spiderweb of emotional frustration and failure." Oscillating between the present, the past and the future, it explicitly describes sexual acts.

He believes that the prosecutor's decision is proof that creativity in Egypt is in "crisis". The journalist and writer said that what prosecutors found to be "illegal" was part of novel, not an article through which "I expressed myself." The prosecutor failed to understand the difference between an article and an excerpt from a novel, Naje said.

The novel itself was published in 2014 by Dar El Tanweer, an Egyptian-Lebanese-Tunisian publishing house established in 1975. He criticised the failure of the press syndicate to defend the rights of its members. 

But Khaled Elbalshy, who heads the freedoms committee at the syndicate contends that the syndicate has not and will not "compromise" when it comes to defending its members.

Elbalshy, however, added that when matters are taken to court, the syndicate can only respect the rulings of the judiciary and pursue the judicial path. He believes that Naje's referral to court is part of an "attack on creativity in general."

The syndicate is set to hold a press conference on rights and freedoms soon to consider how to face the "recurrent assaults on journalists," Elbalshy said. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Egypt have long been under scrutiny by both local and international watchdogs. Last month, three Egyptian journalists were arrested in separate incidents within less than a week, prompting calls from international organizations like Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists to call on Egyptian authorities to release them. 

Top Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied that journalists in the country are being targeted because of their work. In August, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denied that any journalists are detained in cases related to publishing or press freedom.

Article originally published in Aswat Masriya.


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