Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2019 – Take Action for Galal El-Behairy

By | November 15, 2019 at 4:07 pm | No comments | News

Poet, lyricist and activist Galal El-Behairy is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for ‘insulting the military’ and ‘spreading false news’. He is being held in the notorious maximum-security prison Tora prison in Cairo. Nicknamed ‘Scorpion’ Prison, Tora has been condemned by scores of human rights organisations for its serious abuses, including denying inmates access to lawyers, their families, medical care and basic of hygiene products. Its infamous solitary confinement cells — which El-Behairy was subjected to — are cramped and airless. According to Galal El-Behairy’s lawyer has shown signs of severe torture, after his initial detention during which he was held incommunicado for a week.  On 31st of July 2018, Cairo’s Military Court sentenced El-Behairy to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 000 Egyptian pounds (560 USD). Following El-Behairy’s conviction, the publisher of his latest book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth, terminated their contract with him and publicly stated that its agreement to publish the work did not imply its agreement with the book’s content. Galal El-Behairy remains in prison, and is currently serving his sentence.

PEN International believes that the charges against Galal El-Behairy violate his right to peacefully express his views and calls on the Egyptian government for his immediate and unconditional release. PEN opposes criminal defamation laws in all cases and condemns the increasing use of ‘insulting the military’ and ‘disseminating false news’ as methods for stifling dissenting voices in Egypt.

 

Jennifer Clement writes to Galal El-Behairy

These are not the first words of solidarity I have written to a fellow writer in prison, and this is a letter I wish I didn’t have to write, dear Galal. I know better than most how precious one’s freedom is and how swiftly it can be taken away. How cruel those with power can be, and how terribly they can wield it. I have also seen, time and time again the towering greatness of the human spirit.

It is extraordinary to me that Egypt, a country that has enriched culture, language, art, music across the world, is threatened by a song, by a poem. This is the country of Naguib Mahfouz, Nawal El Saadawi, Sayed Darwish. It is your country too. Those in power cannot erase your struggles. Generations to come will know what you have had to endure and what you have sacrificed for your country.

I read your poem, A Letter from Tora Prison:

In the heart of this night
I own nothing
but my smile.
I take my country in my arms
and talk to her
about all the prisoners’ lives… out there
beyond the prison’s borders,
beyond the jailer’s grasp,
and about man’s need… for his fellow man,
about a dream
that was licit
and possible,
about a burden
that could be borne
if everyone took part in it.

You are not alone in this dream, dear Galal. We are all in it with you.

Jennifer

 

Take Action: Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media using the hashtag #FreeGalal #PrisonersofBalaha #ImprisonedWriter

Please send appeals to the Egyptian authorities:

  • Protesting the continued imprisonment of poet Galal El-Behairy and calling for his immediate and unconditional release;
  • Urging them to quash El-Behairy’s sentence and to end the judicial proceedings against him, as he is being held solely for her peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
  • Demanding proper investigation into the allegations of torture of Galal El-Behairy;
  • Condemning the apparent increasing use of military legislation and courts to prosecute writers in Egypt;
  • Denouncing the trial of civilians in military courts, in accordance with Article 204 of the 2014 Constitution.
  • Calling for the protection of the rights to freedom of expression in Egypt, including the release of all detainees held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a State party.

Send appeals to:

President
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Office of the President,
Al Ittihadia Palace, Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt,
Fax: +202 2 391 1441
Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg Moh_moussa@op.gov.eg
Salutation: Your Excellency Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial

Minister of Justice
Mohamed Hossam Abdel Rahim
Ministry of Justice,
Lazoghly Sq.,
Fax: +202 2 795 8103
Email: mjustice@moj.gov.eg
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Defence 
Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Zaki
Ministry of Defence
23 El-Khalifa El-Maamoun st.,
El-Qobba Bridge, Al Waili,
Cairo Governorate – Egypt
Fax: +202 2 4144248
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please send your letters via the Embassy of the Egypt in your country. Addresses may be found here.

Publicity

We encourage PEN members to continue to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Galal El-Behairy;
  • Share information about Galal El-Behairy and your campaigning activities via social media; please use #ImprisonedWriter;
  • Organise public events, press conferences and demonstrations;
  • Promote Galal El-Behairy’s writings (his poem “I have a date with tomorrow” is available here in English and Arabic.)

Please let us know about your activities and send us reports about the actions you take.  This is really important as it means we can monitor the impact that our campaigning has in relation to Galal El-Behairy’s case.

Social Media

Please use the hashtag #ImprisonedWriter.

Share information about Galal El-Behairy and your campaigning activities for him via social media.

Suggested tweets:

  • Drop the charges against #GalalElBehairy #ImprisonedWriter #FreeGalal
  • On Day of the #ImprisonedWriter join PEN and take action for writer #GalalElBehairy #ImprisonedWriter {insert RAN link}

Background

On 26 February 2018, a month before Egypt’s presidential election, Egyptian artist Ramy Essam released the song Balaha, which featured lyrics written by Galal El-Behairy that criticizes the government and policies of Egypt. The song went viral almost immediately, with four million views. Two days after the release of Balaha, the Egyptian Minister of Culture Enas Abdel Dayem publicly denounced Galal El-Behairy on live television, specifically noting his book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth. According to El-Behairy, the book focuses on the strength and perseverance of women in Egypt, who he feels face unique pressures while ultimately being responsible for the success of the men who make up the majority of the country’s workforce. In an addendum on the back cover of the book, he admonished the current public attitude in Egypt regarding terrorism and conflict plaguing the Arab World. A copy of his book is available online here.

Security forces arrested Galal El-Behairy on 3 March 2018 and held him incommunicado for a week until he appeared before the High State Security Prosecution on 10 March 2018. His lawyers reported that he showed signs of severe torture. The Prosecution subsequently ordered for him to undergo a forensic medical examination: the findings of the examination have not been made public, nor shared with his lawyer.

The title of his book The Finest Women on Earth, was interpreted by the prosecutor as alluding to Egyptian soldiers, who are referred to in a hadith by Prophet Muhammad as “the finest soldiers on earth”. The Arabic title of Galal El-Behairy‘s book uses the term niswan for “women,” a word which has derogatory connotations in Egypt implying weakness and submissiveness.

However, Galal El-Behairy defended himself against accusations in a statement released from prison in May 2018: “This title does not refer in any way whatsoever to the Egyptian soldiers… It is rather a recognition of the value of women and of their good deeds in this world. Every soldier, man, fighter, scientist, and inventor is the result of a mother’s education, a wife’s embrace and a daughter’s innocence.”

Along with four other prisoners, Galal El-Behairy went on hunger strike from 24 January to 11 February 2019 to commemorate the 2011 Egyptian revolution and protest the injustice that remains in their country.

The publisher of The Finest Women on Earth, Dar Da’ad Publishing and Distribution, terminated their contract with El-Behairy and publicly stated that its agreement to publish the work did not imply its agreement with the book’s content.

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