Ägypten: Kassationsgericht hebt Gefängnisstrafe gegen Naji auf und ordnet Wiederaufnahmeverfahren an

Ahmed Naji (Quelle: PEN international)

Der internationale PEN begrüßt, dass ein Kassationsgericht das Urteil gegen den ägyptischen Schriftsteller Ahmed Naji aufgehoben hat, doch sieht die Ansetzung eines Wiederaufnahmeverfahrens äußerst kritisch. Unsere Organisation fordert eine bedingungslose Einstellung des Verfahrens.

Ahmed Naji war 2016 wegen angeblicher „Verletzung des öffentlichen Anstandsgefühls“ zu zwei Jahren Gefängnis verurteilt worden und musste außerdem zehntausend ägyptische Pfund (ca. 1.200 US$) Strafe zahlen. Das Urteil bezog sich auf sein Buch Istikhdam al-Haya (Die Verwendung des Lebens), das angeblich „obszöne sexuelle“ Inhalte enthält. Naji musste 10 Monate verbüßen, bevor er am 22. Dezember, als ein ägyptisches Kassationsgericht vorübergehend das Urteil aufhob, freigelassen wurde.
Bei einer späteren Anhörung am 21. Mai 2017 hat das ägyptische Kassationsgericht seine zweijährige Haftstrafe nun endgültig aufgehoben und ein Wiederaufnahmeverfahren vor einem neuen Tribunal angeordnet, das Datum steht freilich noch nicht fest. Naji muss bis dahin nicht ins Gefängnis, aber ihm wurde ein Reiseverbot auferlegt.
Ahmed Naji hat einen Roman veröffentlicht und wenn irgendjemand Einwand gegen den Inhalt des Romans hat, hat die Person die Freiheit, Kritik zu äußern oder den Roman nicht zu lesen. Durch die Verfolgung und die Aussicht auf eine Gefängnisstrafe versucht Ägypten eine kritische, unbequeme Stimme zum Schweigen zu bringen und verletzt dabei die Meinungsfreiheit. Naji sollte jede Freiheit zum Schreiben besitzen“ (Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee).
Der internationale PEN kämpft seit der Verhaftung an der Seite von Ahmed Naji und wird auch weiterhin fordern, dass er sein Grundrecht auf freie Meinungsäußerung unbedingt ausüben kann.

Hintergrund (bereitgestellt vom internationalen PEN):

In 2014, Naji’s novel, The Use of Life ( الحياة استخدام) (Dar al-Tanweer, Beirut), was serialised in the literary magazine Akhbar al-Adab. Chapter six narrates an experience of sex and drug use. The chapter can be read here. The Use of Life has been described as a hybrid between graphic novel and prose fiction. Sex and sexuality are one of the major themes, narrated through the story of Bassam, a man lost inside a ‘spider web of emotional frustration and failure.’ As with any foreign printed book, it was approved by the Publications Censorship Authority before any copies were permitted to enter Egypt through the ports.

On 31 October 2015, a complaint was lodged at the Criminal Court by a reader in relation to chapter six. Naji, alongside editor of Akhbar al-Adab magazine Tarek El Taher, was charged with publishing ‘obscene sexual content’ and ‘defaming public morals’, under Article 178 of the Penal Code which provides for up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine for making, holding, distributing, leasing, pasting, or displaying, for the purpose of trade, ‘printed matter, manuscripts, drawings, advertisements, carved or engraved pictures, manual or automatic photographic drawings, symbolic signs or other objects or pictures in general, if they are against public morals’. El Taher was also charged with failing to carry out his duties as an editor.

Ahmed Naji was originally acquitted at a hearing on 2 January 2016; however, the prosecution appealed the acquittal and he was sentenced on 20 February 2016 to two years’ imprisonment by a court in Cairo. The court also fined El Taher approximately $1,250. Naji was arrested at the hearing and immediately transferred to prison. His lawyers entered a plea to suspend his sentence on 1 March 2016, but this was rejected. On 7 March the court released the reasoning behind its verdict, which according to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy stated that creative expression is limited by religion, tradition, and moral values. On 16 July, the Bulaq Abu al-Aila Misdemeanor Appeals Court ruled against Naji’s motion for a stay of execution for his sentence, and again on 27 August.

Over 500 Egyptian writers and artists have signed a statement in solidarity with Naji, and in May over 120 international writers, editors and artists joined a PEN America statement calling on President Sisi to drop the charges against Naji, and to release him immediately.

The situation for freedom of expression in Egypt has been on the decline in recent years. PEN has been monitoring many cases of writers and journalists who have been jailed solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly including during journalistic or human rights work. For example, in January 2016, the poet Fatima Naoot was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of ‘contempt of Islam’ and ‘disturbing public peace’ for a comment made on Facebook criticising a traditional Islamic celebration. In the same month, poet Omar Hazek was banned from leaving Egypt to accept a PEN/Oxfam Novib award for freedom of expression.  Author Karam Saber and Facebook user Karim al-Banna have both received prison sentences in separate cases for expressing their opinions on religion.

Restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt have also been accompanied by a crackdown on cultural houses, including several raids on a publishing house and an art gallery in 2015 as well as on human rights defenders, with NGO workers repeatedly being summoned for questioning, banned from travelling and having their assets frozen. For example, female activist Mozn Hassan was banned from travel in June 2016 as she tried to leave Egypt to attend a human rights convention.