Egypt: end the prosecution of writers under military jurisdiction

Available in Arabic: PDF and Word

3 April 2019

PEN International strongly condemns the apparent increasing use of military legislation and courts to prosecute writers in Egypt. Article 204 of the 2014 Constitution provides that civilians cannot stand trial before military courts except for crimes related to military sector. Furthermore, trying civilians by the military justice in Egypt contravenes Articles 9, 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party. PEN International calls on the Egyptian authorities to end its practice of subjecting writers to military jurisdiction and to quash the sentences of those who have been subjected to such proceedings.

“Military justice should not try civilian cases related to writing and publishing. The Egyptian authorities should protect the rights of all persons to freely express their views, whether as citizens, journalists, or writers,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Prominent writer Alaa al-Aswany has been recently prosecuted by the military General Prosecution Office on charges of “insulting the president, the military, and judicial institutions.” In a recent interview with al-Aswany, he explained that his prosecution is due to his articles and his latest novel The Republic, As If in which he criticises the Egyptian authorities. Al-Aswany added that he has faced harassment since president al-Sisi came to power, reporting that he has been prevented from speaking to the Egyptian media and publishing articles in the press.

On 24 December 2018, an Egyptian military court upheld a 10-year prison sentence against writer Ismail Alexandrani for “obtaining and publishing military secrets, joining a banned organization and publishing false news abroad.” Prior to his arrest on 29 November 2015, Alexandrani had attended a conference in Berlin regarding counterterrorism. An award-winning freelance journalist and researcher considered an expert in ‘Sinai and Egypt’s Islamism and post-Islamism’, Alexandrani is reported to have been critical of the Egyptian government and its policies aiming to defeat extremists in the Sinai, including in his paper “The War in Sinai: A battle against terrorism or cultivating terrorism for the future?”

Alexandrani was initially arrested at Hurghada airport on 29 November 2015, when returning from Berlin. The prosecution seized his laptop, mobile phone and some personal belongings, which they took as evidence. Alexandrani’s wife reportedly suggested that upon his detention he was questioned in New Cairo for more than ten hours. Since his arrest and until his sentence, Alexandrani‘s pre-trial detention had been renewed more than 25 times. (In September 2013, regulations on pre-trial detention, previously set at a maximum of two years, were amended to allow for indefinite detention in some cases.). According to news reports, military prosecutors charged him with “obtaining and publishing military secrets, joining a banned organisation and publishing false news abroad” in Case 18/2018. In May 2018, The North Cairo Military Criminal Court convicted Alexandrani and sentenced him to ten years in prison.

Khaled Lotfi, a publisher and bookseller who has been detained since his arrest in April 2018, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment before a military court which charged him of “divulging military secrets” and “spreading rumours”. On 4 February 2019, a military appeal court upheld Lotfi’s sentence. According to reports, Lotfi was charged after he distributed an Arabic translation of the English-language book The Angel: Ashraf Marwan. The book, written by an Israeli author, alleges that Egyptian citizen Ashraf Marwan (1944-2007) served as a spy for Israel, an allegation denied by the Egyptian authorities.

Finally, poet Galal El-Behairy was also sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. 560 USD) by the Cairo Military Court on 31 July 2018 following his conviction for “insulting the military” and “spreading false news” related to his latest collection of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth.

The situation for freedom of expression and opinion in Egypt has deteriorated sharply since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed the presidency in 2014; many journalists and writers have been arrested or forced to flee the country. At its 84th Congress held in September 2018, the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International passed a Resolution on Egypt noting with concern the rise in the number of writers and journalists who have been detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including for journalistic, artistic, or human rights work (click here to read more about PEN International’s work on Egypt). 

For any further information, please contact Nael Georges, PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | Email: