Freedom of Expression

Drop the Charges Against Fatima Naoot

Fatima Naoot is a well-known and widely published Egyptian poet and journalist who was charged with “contempt of religion” for Facebook posts she wrote in October 2014 in which she criticized the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha. She was sentenced to three years in prison on January 26, 2016.

Fatima Naoot has published seven collections of poetry and has translated several famous pieces of English-language literature into Arabic. She contributes regularly to various news publications in Egypt and has continued to write for these outlets since her sentencing.

Naoot used her Facebook to denounce the annual slaughter of animals for the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha (English: Feast of Sacrifice.) The feast commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, which is viewed as a major event in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. She is a practicing Muslim and one of several prominent Egyptians who have had their rights to freedom of expression stifled by the country’s strict laws against criticizing Islam. As the feast approached, Naoot made the following post to her Facebook page:

“Millions of innocent creatures will be driven to the most horrible massacre committed by humans for ten-and-half centuries. A massacre which is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son.”

Naoot has maintained that her statements did not constitute contempt of religion and emphasized her own Muslim faith throughout the trial. She has also remained vocal on social media stating that the trial has not demoralized her.

In December 2015 state prosecutors took up the case against the poet for her October Facebook post. Fatima Naoot’s trial began in January 2016, and she was sentenced later that month to three years in prison for “contempt of religion.”

Naoot and her lawyer submitted an appeal that March, which was rejected because she did not appear in court. She was in Toronto, Canada at the time attending a conference and award ceremony of Egyptian-Canadians as a Guest of Honor. The poet was required to pay a bail of EGP 20,000 ($2,252 USD) to remain free from prison upon her return.

In response to Fatima Naoot’s trial, Egyptian Member of Parliament Mona Mounir has introduced a bill to repeal Article 98 of the penal code, under which the poet and many others were sentenced. Article 98 specifies a sentence between 6 months and 5 years for acts that “exploit religion in promoting or favoring verbally or in writing or by any other means any extremist ideologies with the aim of provoking sedition, disparaging or contempt of one of the divine religions or any sects belonging to it or harming national unity or social peace.”

Fatima Naoot is not currently imprisoned, and is expected to remount an appeal against her sentence on September 1, 2016.

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Message Recipients: Sherif Ismail - Prime Minister of Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar - Interior Minister, Ahmed El-Zend - Justice Minister

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