English PEN calls for release of Ahdaf Soueif after coronavirus protest arrest

English PEN calls for release of Ahdaf Soueif after coronavirus protest arrest

English PEN has called for the release of Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif, who was arrested during a protest about the treatment of prisoners during the coronavirus outbreak.

Soueif, whose 1999 novel The Map of Love (Bloomsbury) was shortlisted for the Man Booker, had been calling for prisoners to be freed in a protest outside the Cabinet of Egypt on 16th March. She had been joined by academic Rabab al-Mahdi, the writer's sister Leila Soueif, and her niece, activist Mona Soueif.

Mona Soueif live streamed the protest on Facebook, recording a confrontation with police officers who reportedly asked them to stop and “discuss the matter” at a police station.

According to human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, they were detained at Qasr el-Nil police station in central Cairo. A family member said they were then transferred from the station in a police vehicle, and were charged with illegal assembly, unlawful protest and blocking traffic. 

Daniel Gorman, director of English PEN said: “English PEN calls for the immediate release of British Egyptian Booker-nominated writer Ahdaf Soueif, along with her co-arrestees. Ms Soueif is a hugely valued member of the global literary community, and at a time like the present we particularly need to hear her voice. We call on the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against her and for her immediate and unconditional release."

Prison visits in Egypt have been suspended for 10 days in response to the pandemic. Soueif’s own nephew, blogger and activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who previously served six years in prison for violating Egypt’s protest laws, has been detained since September, English PEN said.

Philippe Sands, president of English PEN, said: “Having known and admired Ahdaf Soueif for many years, as one of Britain and the world’s leading writers, I urge the authorities, in the spirit of decency and compassion, to release her and all those arrested with her, and to do so with immediate effect.”