PEN Canada to honour Egyptian-British democracy advocate on September 23 at Toronto International Festival of Authors

Image: Alaa Abd El-Fattah, courtesy of . Photo by Mosaab El-Shamy.

TORONTO, September 19, 2023 — Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a leading pro-democracy writer imprisoned in Egypt, has won PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award. 

The award will be presented at a ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. The ceremony, titled “Raising our Voices: PEN Canada Awards & Readings in Solidarity with Persecuted Writers”, will be hosted by Garvia Bailey and takes place as part of the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA). Mr. Abd el-Fattah, who is currently serving a five-year sentence in Wadi al-Natroun prison, will have Sanaa Seif his sister receive it on his behalf. The event is open to the public. 

Abd el-Fattah has long been the target of the Egyptian government: he was first arrested in 2006 for protesting for an independent judiciary; in 2011, he was arrested for writing a newspaper article detailing the military’s killing of mostly Egyptian Christian protestors; and in 2013, he served a five-year sentence after being falsely accused of organizing a protest in violation of Egypt’s draconian Protest Law. 

His current detention stems from 2019, when he was arrested alongside his lawyer, Mohamed el-Baqer, and held in Tora prison, in a cell with no sunlight, denied access to books, exercise, a radio, a mattress and bedding, and given no time out of his cell. His lawyer was released in July 2023, but Abd el-Fattah remains in prison.  

In 2021, Abd el-Fattah was sentenced to five years for sharing a Facebook post about human rights violations in prison. That same year, he gained UK citizenship through his mother, who was born in London. Two years on, Egypt still refuses to grant the UK consular access despite three successive British Prime Ministers raising his case with President Sisi, calling for his release. 

To demand his right to consular access, Alaa began a hunger strike in April 2022. In November 2022, his strike escalated: as COP27 began on November 6, he stopped drinking water; on November 11, he collapsed and fell unconscious, coming close to death. Following this he chose to end his strike and has since been rebuilding his health.

“For far too long, Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been persecuted for fighting for a fair society,” says Grace Wescott, PEN Canada President. “The inhumane conditions he endures in jail, including the Egyptian government’s violation of his internationally recognized rights, must come to an immediate end. In the face of that injustice, this award recognizes Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s courage and reminds him, his family, his supporters and most pointedly, his jailers, that he is not alone.” 

On Saturday, Sept. 23 at 4:30 p.m., community members are invited to attend the awards ceremony at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, as part of the Toronto International Festival of Authors. For more information on the event and to reserve your seat, visit

The PEN Canada One Humanity Award was established in 2006 and is valued at $7,000. It is awarded to a writer whose work transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures. Previous winners include Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega and Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. 

PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization that celebrates literature, defends freedom of expression, and assists writers in peril at home and abroad. The English-language Canadian centre was founded in 1983 and is proud to be one of over 100 chapters of PEN International. 


Media contact:
Eilish Waller, Communications Coordinator
PEN Canada,