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Lawyers petition government to censor classic book, imprison publishers

(ANHRI/IFEX) - 22 April 2010 - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said that the failure of the Egyptian government to take a clear stance regarding the religious and political Hesba cases has encouraged more religious extremists and publicity seekers to join the "actio popularis" team.

A group of lawyers filed a motion with the Prosecutor General to confiscate the book "A Thousand and One Nights" and imprison its publishers, claiming that the heritage script "is offensive to public decency".

On 17 April 2010, a number of lawyers filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General, calling for the opening of an investigation into Ahmad Megahed, Gamal Ghitani, Gamal Askary, Saad Abdel Rahman and Susan Abdel Rahman, who are responsible for publishing the "Zakhaer" (treasures) series, issued by the general authority of cultural palaces at the Ministry of Culture. The lawyers filed their complaint as per article 178 of the penal code, which fines and punishes "with imprisonment for a period of two years anyone who publishes literature, pictures, offensive to public decency". So far, two parts of "A Thousand and One Nights" have been published and the lawyers considered these as evidence to corroborate the complaint.

This communiqué, which included an attack on freedom of expression and creativity, belongs, in form and subject, to a long list of political and religious Hesba cases. Such cases are currently an easy way to garner publicity as well as a legal means to censor writers, journalists and artists. The government's response to these Hesba cases poses a real threat to freedom of expression and creativity in Egypt. There is only one explanation for this: to give the government a free hand to challenge writers and journalists.

The silence of the minister of culture on such cases is encouraging the "actio popularis" team. In April 2009, "Ibdaa" magazine, a ministry publication, was suspended by a court order and the minister took no action. Eventually the magazine was allowed to resume publishing following another court order.

Gamal Eid, ANHRI executive director, said, "Demanding the confiscation of a heritage book and a creative piece, such as 'A Thousand and One Nights', is a crime in essence. We will not be silent regarding these cases. The ANHRI legal aid unit for freedom of expression will lead the defense of these writers and intellectuals who are exposed to an unfair crackdown by those publicity seekers. These writers and intellectuals insist on handing over historical and cultural treasures to Egyptian readers and making them accessible to Egyptian citizens, just like other citizens in other countries that respect freedom of expression and freedom of creativity."

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