Open letter from PEN and Artists At Risk

#FreeGalal   #PrisonersofBalaha

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Office of the President
Al Ittihadia Palace

Your Excellency

We, the undersigned, are writing to you in regard to the ongoing detention of poet and lyricist Galal El-Behairy.

On 31 July 2018, Mr El-Behairy was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 10,000 L.E for ‘insulting the military’ and ‘spreading false news’. The charges related to his latest book of poetry The Finest Women on Earth, despite it not yet having been officially published. We understand that Mr El-Behairy also faces additional charges in relation to lyrics written for artist Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’. According to our information, Mr El-Behairy was arrested on 3 March 2018, shortly after the song and music video were released. He was held incommunicado for a week before appearing before the High State Security on 10 March, showing signs of severe torture. He has now spent five months in detention.

Mr El-Behairy’s detention has been met with criticism from the international community, including PEN centres across the globe, as well as by UN human rights experts who issued a statement on his case on 26 July, just days before he was sentenced. They stated:

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.

We recall that all individuals have the right to participate in varied information exchanges, to contribute to artistic expression, and to take part in cultural life and in the development of their society, including through political debate and expression of opinion and dissent, without fear of sanction or reprisals.

PEN shares the concerns of these experts and strongly condemns the Cairo Military Court’s sentence, which we believe to be in violation of Mr El-Behairy’s right to freedom of expression. We call for Mr El-Behairy’s immediate and unconditional release, for his sentence to be quashed and for charges against him to be dropped. In the meantime, we urge the authorities to ensure the full respect of his rights as a prisoner, in accordance with international human rights standards, and call for a full and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture mentioned above.

Furthermore, we respectfully call on the Egyptian authorities to guarantee the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Egypt, including the release of all detainees held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a State party.

Yours sincerely

Artists at Risk (AR)
Danish PEN
English PEN
Finnish PEN
French PEN
German PEN
PEN Lebanon
PEN Melbourne
PEN Québec
Swedish PEN


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We condemn this brutal repression of the freedom of expression.
We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Galal El-Behairy!

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Watch Balaha here. Don’t let artistic expression of dissent be silenced.
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Poet Galal El-Behairy arrested for Balaha song lyrics.


A Message from Galal El-Behairy