Prison sentence for Egyptian poet


An Egyptian military court sentenced a poet to three years in prison for publishing false news and insulting the military after he gained publicity writing a satirical song that criticised government, his lawyer said.

UN human rights experts urged government to acquit Galal El Behairy, expressing alarm at his arrest.

Behairy wrote the lyrics to the song “Balaha”, which has had more than four million views on YouTube. The title means “Date” in Arabic; it is also the name of a delusional character in a comedy film that has become a nickname for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi used by his critics.

The charges against Behairy relate to the title of an anthology of poems playing on a phrase used to describe the military, which former general Sisi headed before he was first elected president in 2014.

Sisi presides over what critics say is an unprecedented crackdown on free speech and dissent, with thousands of political opponents including Islamists and secular liberals jailed, citing a need to protect national security.

Hundreds of news sites and blogs in Egypt have been blocked in recent months and at least a dozen people arrested this year and charged with publishing false news, many journalists or prominent government critics.

Sisi’s government says curbing fictitious news is necessary for national security.
“We are alarmed at the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of El Behairy which appears to be related solely to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity,” a panel of six rights rapporteurs said in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We are worried at reported criminalisation of the legitimate exercise of artistic expression through the imposition of dubious charges.”

Behairy, arrested at Cairo airport in March, was also fined 10,000 Egyptian pounds, according to his lawyer Mokhtar Mounir.