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The imprisoned Egyptian publisher Khaled Lutfi has been awarded the International Publishers Association’s (IPA) 2019 Prix Voltaire, its freedom to publish prize.

Lutfi is the founder of Tanmia Bookshop and Publishing in Cairo.  On 4 February he was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of divulging military secrets and spreading rumours for having distributed an Arabic translation of the book The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Uri Bar-Joseph.  It seems this imported title was expensive so Lutfi signed an agreement with Arab Scientific Publishers to publish a cheaper, Egyptian edition of the book.  Observers say this made the book accessible to more people and thus attracted the attention of the authorities.

Tanmia Bookshop opened in 2011 and later gave birth to a highly respected publishing house. The publishing house brought out a number of acclaimed authors in translation. Tanmia also published original works in Arabic, including a children’s book version of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘Think of Others’, which won an Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature.

Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said: “The international publishing community stands with Khaled Lutfi. We must support Lutfi’s fellow publishers in Egypt so that his imprisonment does not lead to fear and self-censorship in a country of such rich literary heritage.”

José Borghino, IPA Secretary General added: “The IPA calls on President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to grant Khaled Lutfi a presidential pardon.”

It is a difficult time for writers and publishers in Egypt.  In March novelist Alaa al-Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building, said he was being sued in the Egyptian military court for “insulting the president, the Armed Forces, and judicial institutions”.  In London, his publisher Faber said: “As Alaa’s British publisher, we are gravely concerned by this news.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with Alaa in the name of free speech and freedom of expression.”

The presentation of this year’s Prix Voltaire will take place on 21 June at the Seoul International Book Fair in South Korea.