Writer, editor face trial for sexual content

CAIRO — Egypt’s prosecution referred to trial a writer and the editor-in-chief of Egypt’s top literary magazine on Saturday for publishing sexually explicit material and allegedly violating public morals.

Mahmoud Othman, a lawyer representing writer Ahmed Naji, said prosecution officials told him verbally Sunday that Naji and editor Tarek el-Taher’s case had been designated as a misdemeanor.

Othman says Naji faces up to two years in jail and a fine up to 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,245) if proven guilty.

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

Naji said lawyers were told during investigations that the lawsuit was originally filed by a citizen who said his heartbeat fluctuated, blood pressure dropped, and he became severely ill upon reading the chapter in the magazine. But it was up to prosecutors to decide whether the lawsuit was worthy to be referred to trial.

The case is being referred to trial under an article in the penal code which punishes individuals who publish material that are contrary to public morals, said Othman.

The article’s wording lacks specificity, “and is wide enough to include any creative individual,” said Othman. “The law doesn’t specify any details on what are these definitions that violate public modesty. What do we write and what do we not write?” asked Othman. In effect, it puts a continuous threat on writers and could limit creativity, he said.

The law may be in contradiction with the constitution, which states an individual shall not be imprisoned for published material, said Othman.

Naji says his book, printed in Beirut, has already been approved by Egyptian censors. The novel is available in local bookstores, and is rated 3.53 out of five stars on goodreads.com.

“The state says it is against a theocratic state and is fighting extremist religious thought, but on the other hand it talks about how expressions violate public modesty,” said Othman.

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