Egyptian author seeks UN intervention to end his 'persecution'

Writer Alaa al-Aswany wants the United Nations to help 'end the persecution against him' by the Egyptian government.

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    Author Alaa al-Aswany says he cannot visit Egypt without being arrested [Asmaa Waguih/Reuters]
    Author Alaa al-Aswany says he cannot visit Egypt without being arrested [Asmaa Waguih/Reuters]

    Accusing the Egyptian government of "persecution", writer Alaa al-Aswany has sought United Nations' intervention, a statement issued by his lawyers says.

    Lawyers Francois Zimeray, Matthias Fekl and Jessica Finelle said they have sent a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression "to decry Alaa al-Aswany's fate in Egypt".

    Al-Aswany, 61, is an internationally recognised writer and bestselling author of 2002 novel The Yacoubian Building.

    He has been outspoken against the proposed constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stay in power until 2034 and keep Egypt under military rule.

    On March 14, the Egyptian military prosecutor charged al-Aswany with the crime of "insulting the president of the republic, the armed forces and the judicial institutions" because of his public writings and criticism of government abuses and human rights violations.

    'Universal ideals'

    "Freedom of speech is recognized by numerous international conventions ratified by the Arab Republic of Egypt," Matthias Fekl, al-Aswany's lawyer and former interior minister of France, said in a statement.

    "Alaa al-Aswany is a writer whose magnificent work is read in the whole world, and an intellectual with a strong commitment for the universal ideals expressed during the Egyptian spring."

    In their statement, al-Aswany's lawyers "denounced the flagrant violation of a fundamental right, such as freedom of expression and opinion, by the Egyptian authorities".

    However, the letter did not say what action they would like the UN to take.

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    Al-Aswany currently lives in the United States where he teaches literature and says he cannot go back to Egypt fearing his arrest. He also "fears the fate of his family members, all living in Egypt", the letter said.

    Sisi is currently in the US on an official visit and is expected to receive renewed military and economic support from President Donald Trump's administration.

    Human rights groups accuse Sisi's government of widespread repression and human rights violations.

    "President al-Sisi is in Washington to obtain a green light for proposed constitutional amendments that grant the military highly abusive powers and further institutionalize authoritarianism," said Michael Page, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Middle East and Northern Africa in a statement on Tuesday.

    El-Sisi, a former army general, came to power in 2013 toppling the democratically-elected government of President Mohamed Morsi.

    Other Egyptian intellectuals, including actor and filmmaker Amr Waked who is well-known for his roles in Hollywood films Lucy and Syriana, have also spoken out against the proposed amendments.

    Waked and another known actor, Khaled Abol Naga, were accused of "high treason" after their March 25 appearance in Washington along with other human rights advocates in advance of a congressional briefing, titled "Constitutionalizing Authoritarianism", called for "international solidarity with Egyptian citizens".

    Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News