We, the undersigned writers, artists, publishers and academics who participated in the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest), have been following the case of Egyptian activist and PalFest 2012 participant Alaa Abd El Fattah. We are deeply concerned by the 11 June decision of the Cairo criminal court to sentence him and 24 others in absentia to 15 years in prison (Report, 12 June).
Alaa and his comrades have been active campaigners for democracy in Egypt. They were prominent public voices in the uprising against previous oppressive regimes. They have set an example to the world with their use of non-violent means of mass protest and social organisation. They have helped to empower ordinary people long oppressed to have a voice in their national destiny. Rather than being celebrated, these passionate and politically engaged sons and daughters of Egypt will now be imprisoned for a decade and a half for peacefully protesting, on 26 November 2013, in front of the Egyptian Shura council against a proposed constitutional provision allowing military trials for civilians. The legal basis for their incarceration is a draconian protest law that has been widely condemned for its restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression. The arrest of Alaa and his comrades on charges of "illegal protest", and their subsequent trial in absentia and harsh sentencing, fall short of the standards of basic human rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such actions of the current government are tragically reminiscent of previous tyranny against which the Egyptian people rose up in the stunning way that captured the world's imagination.
We call on the Egyptian government to release Alaa, his comrades, and all citizens punished for exercising their natural right to peaceful assembly and protest. We call on Egyptian authorities and others in power not to fear the courage and passion of their fellow citizens who dare to publicly oppose injustice. We call on the Egyptian government to cancel the protest law and to recognise the freedom to assemble and protest.
Susan Abulhawa Author, USA, Lorraine Adams Author, USA, Meena Alexander Author, UK, Lina Atallah Journalist, Egypt, Bidisha Author, UK, Victoria Brittain Journalist, UK, Selma Dabbagh Author, UK, Esther Freud Author, UK, Tarik Hamdan Author, Palestine, John Horner PalFest trustee, UK, Penny Johnson Author and editor, Palestine, Omar El-Khairy Playwright, UK, Ursula Lindsey Journalist, Egypt, Sabrina Mahfouz Poet, UK, Jamal Mahjoub Author, Spain, Pankaj Mishra Author, UK, Bill Mitchell Dramatist, UK, Tania Nasir Author and singer, Palestine, Andrew O'Hagan Author, UK, Ursula Owen Publisher, UK, Michael Palin Actor and author, UK, Ed Pavlic Author and professor, USA, Alexandra Pringle Publisher, UK, Marcia Lynx Qualey Blogger, USA, Sapphire Author, USA, Kamila Shamsie Author, UK, Raja Shehadeh Author & Lawyer, Palestine, Gillian Slovo Author, USA, Jesse Soodalter Physician, USA, Ahdaf Soueif Author, Egypt, William Sutcliffe Author, UK, Alice Walker Author, USA