US organization urges Egypt to release hunger-striking poet
CAIRO (AP) — A U.S. free speech and literary organization has called on Egypt to release a well-known poet and songwriter who is on a hunger strike to protest his five-year incarceration.
PEN America demanded Thursday that Egyptian authorities release Galal al-Behairy, who was first detained in March of 2018 and later handed a three-year sentence for spreading false news and insulting Egypt’s military.
In a leaked letter that coincided with the fifth anniversary of his arrest, al-Behairy said he would refuse food and medication until he secured his freedom. An Egyptian government media officer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the call for the hunger striker to be released.
Al-Behairy wrote the lyrics to the hit Egyptian pop song, “Balaha,” sung by exiled pop star Ramy Essam. The poet was arrested a month after its release.
’’I committed one crime, which is poetry,″ al-Behairy wrote in his letter, published across social media. “The strike will continue until I regain my freedom, alive or not.″
The announcement comes a few months after a well-known imprisoned dissident, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, escalated his hunger strike, an action that overshadowed the World Climate Summit last November, hosted by Egypt.
As the summit known as COP27 opened, Abdel-Fattah intensified his monthslong, partial hunger strike to stop all food and water in an effort to draw attention to his case and others. As concerns for his fate mounted, he ended his strike. Abdel-Fattah remains in prison.
’’Galal’s treatment is emblematic of the Egyptian regime’s disdain for artists and its campaign to crack down on artistic freedom and eradicate expression that they do not agree with,″ said Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa researcher with PEN America.
The New York City-based organization also called for the release of all other detained Egyptian activists, writers and artists.
Egypt’s government has in recent years jailed thousands of people, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists. Many of those behind bars were involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled the country’s longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.