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Author and publisher of graphic novel fined

(ANHRI/IFEX) - Three Egyptian human rights organisations, ANHRI, the Association of freedom of thought and expression and the Hisham Mubarek Law Center, have stated that "the Court ruling imposing a fine on the author and publisher of the novel 'Metro' and the confiscation of copies of the novel is a step backwards for freedom of expression. In order to assert our rights, this decision will be appealed." "Metro" is the first graphic novel published in Egypt and refers to events of a political and social nature.

On 21 November 2009, the Misdemeanor Court of Qasr El Nile issued a ruling on Case 1616, which was initiated in 2008 against "Metro" author Magdi El Shafai and publisher Mohamed El Sahrqawi. The court determined that El Shafai and El Sahrqawi should each pay a fine of 5,000 pounds (approx. US$900).

The case began in April 2008, when the Vice Squad (a body of the Interior Ministry) collected hundreds of copies of "Metro" after storming the El Malemeh printing house and some libraries that sell the novel. Arrest warrants were issued against El Shafai and El Sahrqawi and an investigation was launched. Initially, the head of the Court of South Cairo ruled that copies of the novel were to be confiscated and it was to be taken off the market, and that El Shafai and El Sahrqawi were to be prosecuted for "making and publishing material regarded as immoral to the public."

The public prosecutor called for sanctions against El Shafai and El Sahrqawi based on Articles 30, 171, 178 and 198 of the Penal Code. Subsequently, the prosecutor decided to bring El Shafai and El Sahrqawi before the Misdemeanor Court of Qasr El Nile.

The three human rights organisations have signed a statement to express their continuing support for artists and are calling on individuals who care about freedom of expression to show their solidarity with the author and publisher of "Metro", especially as the book represents the first graphic novel to be published in Egypt and has received many awards and praise from critics. The organisations also stated that criticisms of literary works are not the purview of the courts.

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