Egypt's grim blow on freedom of expression and human rights:
the tortured poet Galal El-Behairy must be freed
8 May 2018
The President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rahim
The Egyptian Minister of the Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffa
The Egyptian Public Prosecutor
The Egyptian Military Public Prosecutor
The Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy is currently detained and faces charges in the Military Court related to his latest book of poetry, ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ (خير نسوان الأرض), published earlier in 2018. El-Behairy likewise faces charges for writing the lyrics for artist Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’ in a separate case investigated by the High State Security Prosecution. He was arrested, beaten and tortured after the release of the song.
On May 6, 2018, El-Behairy was given the information that the verdict will be given on May 9 by the Military Court. Charges against him in the Military Court case include insulting the military and spreading false news.
Ramy Essam’s song and music video Balaha was released on February 26, 2018. Soon after the release of the song, which criticizes the government and policies of Egypt, various pro-state TV hosts launched a smear campaign against Essam and El-Behairy.
On March 3, 2018 El-Behairy was arrested, and his whereabouts were not disclosed to his family or lawyers until he appeared before the High State Security Prosecution one week later, on March 10, 2018. He showed signs of severe torture and beating, and the High State Security Prosecution ordered him to undergo forensic medical examination.
On May 6, 2018 Galal El-Behairy attended a trial in the Military Court, and to a great surprise, was given the information that the verdict will be given already in three days, on May 9, on the case that handles the content of his book of poetry.
At the same time, El-Behairy is being investigated by the High State Security Prosecution for both ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ (خير نسوان الأرض) and the lyrics he wrote for ‘Balaha’. The High State Security charges against him include joining a terrorist organization, spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military. An arrest warrant in the same case has been issued against Ramy Essam related to the song ‘Balaha’.
We, the undersigned PEN centres, stand in solidarity with Galal El-Behairy and Ramy Essam and urge Egyptian authorities to:
- Drop all charges against Galal El-Behairy, in both the Military Court and the High State Security Court, in connection with the book of poetry ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ and the lyrics of ‘Balaha’, and release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is being held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
- Ensure that Galal El-Behairy receives a fair trial, full legal representation, adequate medical care, and full access to family visits whilst detained;
- Ensure the safety of Galal El-Behairy and his family and end all forms of harassment, intimidation, and attacks against them;
- Drop all charges against and the arrest warrant for Ramy Essam, as he too has been peacefully practicing his legal right of freedom of expression;
- Ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Egypt is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under the Egyptian Constitution and under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party; and
- Ensure that Egypt respects the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) to which Egypt is a state party.
Venla Hiidensalo, President, Finnish PEN
Per Øhrgaard, President, Danish PEN
William Nygaard, President, Norwegian PEN
Jesper Bengtsson, President, Swedish PEN