Egypt: Poet Omar Hazek imprisoned

19 March 2014 – RAN 07/14

PEN International protests the two-year prison sentence handed down to Egyptian poet Omar Hazek, who has been held in custody since his arrest in early December 2013 for taking part in a protest. Omar Hazek was held in Hadra prison in Alexandria until 21 February 2014 when he was moved to Burj Al-Arab prison also in Alexandria, where he remains held. PEN International believes that the poet Omar Hazek is imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly, and therefore calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

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Please send appeals:

Expressing concern at the recent crackdown on journalists, writers and activists in Egypt, in particular the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of poet and activist Omar Hazek, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release;

Calling on the authorities to uphold the right to legitimate expression and peaceful  assembly in accordance with their obligations as laid out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party;

Urging them to ensure that Article 7 of the Constitutional Declaration which provides for limitations on freedom of expression through speech, writing, pictures or other means “according to the law” is not used to impose restrictions which exceed those that may be imposed under international law.

Appeals to:

Interim president Adly Mansour
Supreme Constitutional Court
Kournish El-Nile El-Maddi
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202-795-8048
Email: info [at] [dot] eg

Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Egypt
Colonel General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
23 July Street.,
AlKobba Bridge,
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: + 20-22916227
E-mail mmc [at] [dot] eg

If possible please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Egypt in your country.


Omar el Hazek is a writer of international acclaim and was formerly employed by the Library of Alexandria in Alexandria Egypt. His publications include a collection of poetry in Arabic and English entitled Nota – Skies of Freedom (Egypt 2011), which he co-published with Syrian poet Abdelwahhab Azzawi and two other poets from Italy and Portugal. Omar Hazek won the title of “Poet of Romance” in the TV classical poetry competition “Prince of Poets” in 2007, organized by the Abu Dhabi Organization for Culture and Heritage.

Since the overthrow of President Mubarak in February 2011, Omar Hazek has been outspoken in his allegations of corruption in the Library of Alexandria, whose official head of the board of trustees was former first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. Her close associate, Dr. Ismail Serageldin remains the Director of the Library despite multiple calls for his resignation over alleged abuse of funds and power, and an ongoing investigation into allegations of misappropriation of state funds. During 2011, Omar produced some 15 articles alleging corruption at the Library, but in spite of an investigation by the District Attorney’s office which recommended that Serageldin should be prosecuted, no action was taken and Serageldin remains in post.

Omar Hazek was arrested on 4 December 2013 along with a number of other activists for ‘protesting without permission’ in front of the Alexandria Criminal Court in solidarity with the family of Khalid Said during a re-trial of his alleged killers. Khalid Said was beaten to death in police custody in 2010, and his death sparked anti-government protests. Omar Hazek was initially charged with beating a policeman, destroying a police vehicle and carrying weapons, among other things, though these charges were subsequently dropped. PEN International is unaware of any other information suggesting that Omar Hazek used or advocated violence.

In January 2014, Omar Hazek and three other activists were sentenced by the lower court to two years’ imprisonment and a 50,000 EGP (equivalent to US$7000) fine for violating a new law for the regulation of demonstrations which prohibits demonstrations without written permission from the Ministry of Interior. On 16 February 2014 the Alexandria Appeal Court upheld their sentences. The only remaining course of legal redress is to bring a case in the Court of Cassation challenging the constitutionality of the protest law.

After mass protests on 30 June 2013 against the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party of President Mohamed Morsi who had come to power through democratic elections one year earlier, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed President Morsi on 3 July 2013. Constitutional Court judge Adly Mansour was appointed as interim president. Mansour issued a Constitutional Declaration setting out a roadmap, which included drafting a new constitution and elections. A new constitution came into effect on 18 January 2014 after a national referendum, which provides improved provisions for freedom of expression and bolsters press freedom.

However the situation on the ground has seen widespread violence, with peaceful protests violently suppressed by police and thousands arrested for their alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned in September 2013 and declared a terrorist group on 25 December 2013, the day after a new Anti-Terror law was passed. Hundreds, including Omar Hazek, have also been arrested under the repressive new protest law issued by the interim president, Adly Mansour, on 24 November 2013. Provisions of the law exceed permissible restrictions on the right to protest peacefully.