Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy is expected to be sentenced in the military court on 31 July 2018 over charges of “spreading false news” and “insulting the army”, after his sentencing was postponed for a third time on 28 July.
The charges relate to the publication of his latest book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth, which Freemuse learned had been printed but has yet to be published. The charges of “spreading false news” and “insulting the army” carry sentences of two-year and three-year prison terms, respectively.
Freemuse continues to call for the release of El-Behairy, who has been detained for 149 days, and for the charges against him to be dropped in both this military case and a concurrent civil case related to one of his other works.
“It is unacceptable that Egyptian authorities target citizens, like Galal El-Behairy, for expressing opinions and ideas they may not like or approve. El-Behairy, and other artists in Egypt, are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression—a right that is protected by international covenants Egypt has signed on to and thus are accountable to uphold,” Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said.
The poet is also facing a civil case related to his lyrics being used in a song by Egyptian musician Ramy Essam, who himself has a warrant for his arrest in absentia over the song and accompanying video. In this case, the artists are accused of insulting Islam and the current administration.
El-Behairy was arrested on 3 March 2018, just three days after Essam’s music video for the song Balaha was released on social media on 28 February. After his arrest, the poet had not been seen or heard from until 10 March when he was brought before state prosecution. The artist reportedly showed signs of torture. His sentencing has been postponed three times—to 16 May, then 28 July and now 31 July.
On 26 July, UN human rights experts also urged Egyptian authorities to release El-Behairy.
“We are alarmed at the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of Mr. El-Behairy which appears to be related solely to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity,” the UN experts said in a statement. “We urge the relevant authorities to investigate the alleged ill-treatment of Mr. El-Behairy, and to acquit him of all charges related to the creative expression of his political views.”
The experts are Ms Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr Seong Phil Hong, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Mr Bernard Duhaime, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.