PEN International, Photo courtesy of Galal Behairy’s family

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt: Solidarity statement with poet Galal El Behairy

ISHR stands in solidarity with Egyptian poet Galal El Behairy on the 5th anniversary of his arbitrary arrest and his announcement of a hunger strike.

The undersigned organisations express their full solidarity with poet Galal El Behairy on the fifth anniversary of his arbitrary arrest and detention solely on the basis of his peaceful expression, an anniversary on which he has announced a hunger strike. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) filed complaint no. 15196/2023, requesting the Public Prosecution to open an investigation into El Behairy’s hunger strike, to ensure prompt medical intervention and to order his release. Throughout his five years of detention, El Behairy has been denied his right to a fair trial and has been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and medical negligence, which has led to the deterioration of his health. 

El Behairy was arbitrarily arrested on 5 March 2018 at Cairo Airport.  The following day, he appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution and was remanded in detention on allegations of “spreading false news” and “insulting the President”. He was added to Case 480/2018 (known in the media as the “Balaha” case), for writing a song critical of the government. While the Prosecution later ordered his release on 17 April 2019, he remained in detention as during his pre-trial detention under Case 480/2018, he was interrogated by the military prosecution in a second case (Case 4/2018) with similar charges. He was subsequently tried by a military court under Case 4/2018 without guarantees of fair trial standards, and sentenced to three years in prison on 31 July 2018 for “insulting the military institution and its symbols”, in relation to his published poetry. He completed his prison sentence on 21 July 2021. Yet, instead of releasing him according to the law, the Egyptian authorities forcibly disappeared El Behairy from 16 August to 5 September 2021, whereas authorities did not respond to inquiries about his whereabouts. He was then added to a third case, Case 2000/2021, with the same charges as the first case and ordered him into pretrial detention again. 

On 5 March 2023, Galal El Behairy began a hunger strike to protest his arbitrary imprisonment and detention conditions. This will include refraining from taking food, antidepressants and his heart medication, and ultimately, water. Given the numerous abuses he has previously endured, we are gravely concerned for his health and living situation in Badr 1 prison. 

UN human rights experts have called for his release and stated: 

“We are alarmed at the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of Mr. El Behairy which appears to be related solely to the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity” […]. The experts urged “the relevant authorities to investigate the alleged ill-treatment of Mr. El Behairy, and to acquit him of all charges related to the creative expression of his political views” […] and recalled “that all individuals have the right to participate in varied information exchanges, to contribute to artistic expression, and to take part in cultural life and in the development of their society, including through political debate and expression of opinion and dissent, without fear of sanction or reprisals.”

We urge the Egyptian authorities to heed the call of these experts and release poet Galal El Behairy and all individuals arbitrarily detained for political reasons, for expressing themselves freely, or for defending rights. We also call for transparent investigations into ill-treatment, medical negligence and other human rights violations in prisons. We urge the Egyptian authorities to put an end to prolonged pre-trial detention as well as inhumane detention conditions. These tactics lead to the desperation of those detained, leading them to suicide attempts or hunger strikes.

We support the right of Galal El Behairy to go on hunger strike, a non-violent tool to express his demands, and we call on the international community, including UN human rights mechanisms and States at the Human Rights Council, to put pressure on the Egyptian government to immediately and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily detained.

Stemming from our conviction to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms, we stand in solidarity with the poet Galal El Behairy, and all the activists and human rights defenders in Egypt and in the world.


  1. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
  2. Andalus Institute For Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies
  3. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  4. Citizens International
  6. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  7. Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
  8. Egyptian Human Rights Forum ( EHRF)
  9. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  10. EgyptWide for Human Rights
  11. El Nadeem Center
  12. English PEN
  13. FIDH
  14. Friends of the Earth Scotland
  15. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
  16. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  17. International Network of Liberal Women
  18. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  19. MARBE S.A.
  20. MENA Rights Group
  21. PEN America
  22. PEN International
  23. People in Need
  24. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
  25. Sinai Foundation for Human Rights
  26. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  27. The Freedom Initiative (Fi)
  28. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
  29. Till the Last Prisoner campaign
  30. Unidosc, Mexico
  31. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

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