Press Release

May 25, 1997

Writer 'Ala'a Hamed's imprisonment represses freedom of opinion and expression.

CHRLA expresses its great concern regarding the decision of the north Cairo misdemeanors court of appeal to uphold the decision of the court of first instance, which sentenced writer 'Ala'a Hamed to a year's imprisonment.

This sentence, which the writer has been serving since May 1997, was imposed as punishment for the thoughts and opinions which he presented in his book Ferash, which the court considered to be an insult to religious scholars and a mockery of society's values. The court also considered these opinions to be a solicitation to corrupt morals and an instigation to sexual permissiveness, in a manner at odds with the requirements of protecting public morals. According to the court, the above considerations mandated the application of Articles 171 and 178 of the Penal Code.

This is the second court ruling to sentence the writer. In March 1990, 'Ala'a Hamed was arrested and detained for a month pending investigations into the case which his novel Masafa fi 'Aql Rajul provoked. This novel was impounded by the artistic censor's investigation office after a memorandum submitted by al-Azhar's Academy of Islamic Research confirmed that the book included blasphemy and atheism.

Accordingly, 'Ala'a Hamed was referred to trial before the Emergency State Security Court which sentenced him in December 1991 to eight years' imprisonment.

Both the person who printed the novel and its publisher were also sentenced to imprisonment by the court.

The State Security investigation office, while detaining the writer pending investigations in the first case, searched the 'Dar al-Jeel' printing company premises and impounded copies of Ferash still in the process of being printed.

During the Prosecution Office's interrogations, 'Ala'a Hamed denied the accusations against to him, stating that his book included a variety of feelings and incidents that occur in Egyptian daily life, presented according to the author's personal perspective.

CHRLA is well aware that the exercise of the freedom of expression in a literary or artistic form must not conflict with the rights of others, their reputation, or the protection of public morals. On the other hand, the Center is also aware that any legal restrictions imposed by the legislature for the purpose of protecting the rights of others and the public morals must not present in their turn a real obstacle to the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.

In this context the Center cannot but consider the dozens of legal provisions which impose custodial sentences for thought crimes, leading to the imprisonment of writers, journalists, or artists, as a way of deterring and intimidating both them and other writers, journalists, and artists. This creates an atmosphere in which the exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression becomes a risky adventure fraught with danger.

The Center thinks that the degree of such danger increases when one bears in mind the loose terms in which criminal provisions are drafted, and which defy any legal precision. Under such provisions opinion, thought, and creativity are criminalized, either for the purpose of protecting "public morals," the "public interest," or "public order," or for reasons of "contempt of religions" or "contempt of ruling order." These are small examples of the imprecise terms which fill the (in)famous glossary of the Penal Code.

This is why CHRLA is renewing its plea to the Egyptian government and legislature to abolish all custodial sentences for offenses of opinion, publication, or creativity.

The Center reaffirms, in this respect, the importance of the role of civil institutions, specially syndical organizations concerned with writers, journalists, publishers, and artists, in formulating more precise terms to deal with necessary legal restrictions on freedom of expression - without emptying this freedom of its content. Such institutions also play an important role in examining and enforcing disciplinary measures and sentences accepted by them against any of their members, when those members violate the covenants of professional and moral honor imposed on them by the institution.

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