Held on obscenity charges, Egyptian author freed from prison

FILE - In this undated file image Egyptian author Ahmed Naji poses for a photo in Cairo, Egypt. Naji on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, has walked out of a Cairo police station, after a court suspended his two-year-sentence pending review of his appeal on obscenity charges. (Yasmin Hosam El Din via AP, File)

CAIRO — An Egyptian author walked out of a Cairo police station on Thursday after a court suspended his two-year prison sentence pending review of his appeal on obscenity charges.

The year-long case of Ahmed Naji, after a magazine published a sexually explicit excerpt of his novel, "The Use of Life," has drawn international condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on freedom of expression. It was seen as part of a larger crackdown on civil rights in Egypt under the rule of army chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Surrounded by his friends, Naji was rushed into a car with tinted windows and made no comments to reporters.

The sentence angered Egyptian authors and artists, who called it a blatant encroachment on the freedom of expression and artistic creativity enshrined in Egypt's new constitution. A statement signed by 13 rights groups called for Naji's immediate release.

In May, Woody Allen, Philip Roth and Stephen Sondheim were among more than 120 authors, artists and journalists calling on the Egyptian government to drop charges against Naji. The literary and human rights organization PEN's Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said in a statement that Naji's imprisonment was a "blow to the dynamic literary and arts scene in Egypt."

Naji was initially acquitted, but prosecutors appealed and a higher court in February sentenced him to two years in prison. The court will review Naji's appeal on Jan. 1

The imprisonment of Naji came at a time when Egyptian courts issued a series of rulings against writers, scholars, and poets mostly on charges of contempt of Islam.

El-Sissi has presented himself as a progressive Muslim leader who promised a "religious revolution" to modernize the religious discourse, but cases like Naji's and others have damaged his standing among many of the liberals and artists who originally supported his rise to power.

You may also interested in

House Speaker Paul Ryan wins GOP nomination to run again

Aug 10, 2016

House Speaker Paul Ryan has defeated a longshot Republican primary challenger who had been praised by Donald Trump

Beyond 'Obamacare': State initiatives refocus health debate

Aug 9, 2016

Political activists are looking to state ballot questions to move beyond "Obamacare" and refocus the nation's long-running debate over government's role in health care

Florida officials go into damage-control mode over Zika

Aug 6, 2016

Worried about Florida's all-important tourism industry, state officials are going into damage-control mode over Zika

People also read these

Hearing on Johnny Depp domestic violence allegations delayed

Aug 9, 2016

A judge is briefly delaying a restraining order hearing involving Johnny Depp and his estranged wife because it is expected to span several days; depositions of both actors set

A look at China's foreign policy challenges

Aug 10, 2016

China's simmering feud with South Korea over deployment of an American missile defense system is the latest in a string of foreign policy challenges piling up on President Xi Jinping's desk as he prepares to host next month's annual summit of G20 nations

If Trump can't get along with GOP, how will he govern?

Aug 9, 2016

Beyond the political fallout from Donald Trump's rocky relationship with party elders lies a fundamental reality: Should he win the presidency, the brash billionaire will have to work closely with the same GOP leaders he vilified on the campaign trail