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Egypt: Author Faces Prison for Writing About Hashish

Egyptian activist attorney Nasser Amin is challenging a law that calls for writers to be imprisoned for words that violate the country’s “morals.” The challenge comes in the trial of novelist Ahmed Naji, who could face two years in prison and a fine of nearly $1,300 for his work The Use of Life—because of its explicit sex scene and numerous references to hashish use. Amin argues that the law violates the Egyptian constitution, which only permits such punishment for published materials that are defamatory or encourage violence or discrimination.

Prosecutors insist the book is actually autobiographical and should be treated as journalism. They’ve even threatened to charge Naji for past hashish use—although this is even more legally dubious, as he’s never been arrested for possession.

Amin linked the prosecution of Naji to the crackdown on Islamists since the July 2013 military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said authorities target secular artists and writers following repression of Islamists to show they are as virtuous. “Outside this hall… is a repressive authority which claims it is protecting the homeland and virtue,” he told the court, according to AP. In an apparent reference to the military-backed government and the Islamist opposition, he added: “Each of them tries to overstate over the other who is the more protective of virtue and morals.”

In related cases, the Egyptian regime has prosecuted writers for reporting on closed military trials, for advocating atheism in social media posts, and for promoting unauthorized protests.

The number of Egyptian reporters behind bars is at an all-time high, according to a report earlier this year from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has previously trumpeted the country’s supposedly free press, ominously warned on Egyptian TV in October: “The media and the state should not disagree. Beware, let us not disagree.”

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