Court upholds comic book ban, fines creator and publisher

After more than four months of legal deliberations, the Qasr el-Nil Court of Misdemeanors issued today its verdict regarding the confiscation of the Metro comic book – Egypt’s first graphic novel for adults. This court upheld the confiscation order issued by the South Cairo Civil Court on 23 June, 2009.  Moreover, the Qasr el-Nil Court’s verdict dictated fines of LE 5,000 each against Metro’s creator, Magdy el-Shafei, and its publisher, Mohamed el-Sharkawy, the managing director of El-Malamih Publishing House.

Metro was pulled off of Cairo’s bookshelves in April 2008 upon police orders, which perceived its contents were indecent. The verdicts of both the South Cairo Civil Court and the Qasr el-Nil Court of Misdemeanors were issued in light of Articles 178 and 198 of the Egyptian Penal Code – which prohibit the printing or distribution of publications which contravene public decency, and authorize the confiscation of publications which contain offenses to public morals.

Outside the courtroom Defense Lawyer Hamdy el-Assiuty, of the independent Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Al-Masry Al-Youm’s English Edition "this verdict represents a blow to Egypt’s creative and artistic freedoms and to the freedom of expression in general. There are numerous Arabic and foreign novels on Egypt’s bookshelves which contain far more explicit language and imagery than that found in Metro. In addition to this the label on the front cover reads ‘For Adults Only’, thus the caveat is made clear to all."

Metro’s story line revolves around a fictitious young Cairene software engineer named Shihab who lives in a society afflicted with the vices of poverty, political corruption, and socioeconomic injustice, all of which are touchy topics in Egypt. In this graphic novel Shihab and his friends decide to rob a bank in order to pay off debts incurred from an illicit loan-shark. The two most controversial drawings in this comic book depict a couple making love in bed (while concealed beneath the sheets,) and a half-naked woman. There are also a few curse words which are sparingly scattered in the pages, specifically “fag, whore, and pimp/bastard."

El-Assiuty went on to say "we will appeal against this verdict before the South Cairo Misdemeanors Appellate Court within the next ten days. We hope that they will accept our appeal."

Metro’s creator, Magdy el-Shafei, told Al-Masry Al-Youm EE "this verdict is disappointing, but I was expecting to be disappointed. Nonetheless, I am pleased with the solidarity that we have received from human rights organizations, civil society associations, independent journalists and bloggers. This sort of solidarity gives me hope."

He added "this verdict is detrimental to Egyptian society’s right to freedom of expression. Egypt’s artists, writers, creators and publishers, along with its viewers and readers, have been hoping for more concrete steps towards freedom of expression; yet it is clear today that we have taken a major step backwards." El-Shafei concluded "the authorities claim that Metro is immoral, however, what is truly immoral are their attempts to force people into submission and censorship. It is immoral to ban other people’s artistic works and to prevent them from freely expressing themselves."


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