Fifty Shades of Grey? Egyptian Journalist on Trial for Writing ‘Obscene Sexual Content’

Fifty Shades of Grey? Egyptian Journalist on Trial for Writing ‘Obscene Sexual Content’

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Egyptian writer and journalist Ahmed Naje was brought to court Saturday, where he faces trial for writing an article containing “obscene sexual content,” as many on social media express solidarity with the writer.

Prominent writers Mohamed Salmawy and Sonallah Ibrahim attended the hearing, Naje said on Twitter.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression said prosecutors questioned during the trial if the “description of genitals” can be considered creativity, saying “porn films are more creative.”

Naje has sent out a message on Twitter expressing astonishment as to how two representatives of the prosecution are pleading, in a message on Twitter. Typically only one prosecutor pleads during trial.

This is Naje’s second appearance in court in this trial and many are using social media to express solidarity with him, including writer and public speaker Mona Eltahawy and columnist Sultan Al-Qassemi.

His crime was publishing a chapter from his novel “Use of Life” in August 2014. The chapter was published in a literary magazine belonging to Akhbar Al-Youm.

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 authored the novel but in an innovative twist, he also resorted to a cartoonist to illustrate some parts of the narrative.

After he learned of the trial, Naje told Aswat Masriya on Nov. 1, that this is proof that creativity in Egypt is in “crisis”.

Prosecutors said Naje published “written material containing lust,” adding that he let his mind and pen be used for “malicious” purposes in “violation of the sanctity of public morals” and leading to temptation.

The trial also includes the editor-in-chief of the magazine, which is run by the state-owned Akhbar Al-Youm.

The chief editor Tarek al-Taher told prosecutors during questioning that he only reviewed the title of the story, without reviewing the whole text, adding that he would not have published it had he read it. He failed to meet his duty of “supervising the story,” prosecutors said.

The trial was postponed to Jan. 2, when the verdict is set to be issued.

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Egypt have long been under scrutiny, both by local and international watchdogs.

Last week, novelist Alaa Al Aswany’s monthly seminar in Alexandria was cancelled, he said in a short statement on his official Facebook page.

He said it was cancelled after security forces objected to the topic of the seminar which was titled “the conspiracy theory, between reality and illusions.”

In an article on the cancellation of Aswany’s seminar, The Guardian said, “the cancellation comes as the space for speech that doesn’t fit [President Abdel Fattah al]-Sisi’s narrative has narrowed.”

There have also been a string of cases in the past two months where journalists have been detained and questioned by Egyptian authorities, the latest being journalist Ismail Alexandrani who faces charges of: joining an illegal group, spreading rumors and disturbing public peace.

Despite a census by in June that said that at least 18 journalists are behind bars in Egypt because of their work, 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.

This content is from: Aswat Masriya

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Aswat Masriya is a Thomson Reuters Foundation-sponsored website that covers Egypt's transition to democracy.

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