IPA: Egypt’s Prix Voltaire Laureate Khaled Lotfy Out of Prison

In News by Porter Anderson

The Prix Voltaire-winning Cairo publisher and bookseller Khaled Lotfy was released from prison, the IPA reports, on November 19.

Mahmoud, left, and his brother Khaled Lotfy, the 2019 IPA Prix Voltaire winner released from his imprisonment in Egypt in late 2022. Image: IPA

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Einarsson: ‘So Unfair What Khaled Has Had To Endure’
During our winter break (we resume normal publication today, January 3), there was news from the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) that the Egyptian publisher Khaled Lotfy has been released from prison in Cairo. The association says that he was released on November 19.

As many of our readers will remember, the association’s Prix Voltaire was conferred in June 2019 on Lotfy (a name sometimes transliterated to Lutfi) during the Korean Publishers Association’s Seoul International Book Fair. By then, Lotfy was in prison and sent a letter to the event in Seoul by his brother, Mahmoud.

The founder of the Cairo-based Tanmia bookshop and publishing house, Khaled Lotfy reportedly was sentenced to five years’ incarceration on charges of divulging military secrets. Allegations in the case involve his publication of an Arabic translation of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel by Uri Bar-Joseph, a book published in the United States by HarperCollins in a translation by David Hazony.

The Netflix film, The Angel (2018) in director Ariel Vromen’s production written by David Arata, is based on the Bar-Joseph book in question and stars Marwan Kenzari as Ashraf Marwan.

The edition of The Angel he published was a less expensive Arabic-language translation. The original Arabic publication had been produced by the Lebanon-based publisher, Arab Scientific. That first edition was available in Egypt, but only as a relatively expensive import.

Lotfy became the fifth winner in the Prix Voltaire program, which announced its first winner in 2014 and now has named eight winners.

Kristenn Einarsson

A statement has been provided on the news of Lotfy’s release from Kristenn Einarsson, chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee and chief of the Norway-based World Expression Forum, WEXFO.

“It is so unfair, what Khaled has had to endure,” Einarsson says.

“We wish him all the best as he is re-united with his family and looks to the future.

“We hope that the Egyptian government can build on positive announcements and improve the freedom of expression situation through clear legislative changes that ensure people are not imprisoned for what they write or publish.”

Calls for Lotfy’s Release

As in the case of the imprisoned Vietnamese Prix Voltaire winner Pham Doan Trang, IPA and Einarsson have been outspoken in demanding Lotfy’s release.

The Netflix film ‘The Angel’ (2018) is based on the Uri Bar-Joseph book

In January 2020, it was announced that Lotfy’s legal representation had exhausted all available appeals for his release. At that point, Einarsson and the IPA issued call to the Egyptian president for a pardon for Lotfy.

“It is incomprehensible that Khaled Lotfy can be imprisoned,” Einarsson said at the time, “not only for publishing a book but for publishing a new version of a book that was already available.

“His only chance of freedom is a presidential pardon, and we implore president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to release Khaled so that he can be reunited with his family.”

That same month, the IPA announced that Lotfy’s Tanmia Publishing was being excluded from exhibiting at the Cairo International Book Fair. The IPA reported that its offices had contacted organizers of the fair to argue for Tanmia’s inclusion. The organizers declined to include the company, the IPA said, citing security concerns as the basis for their decision.

Einarsson at that point repeated his call for a pardon from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, saying, “It’s so disappointing to see that Cairo International Book Fair is unable to show its support for Khaled Lotfy by giving his publishing house a stand at the fair.”

In April 2020, as outbreaks in the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic were widening, Einarsson and the association made yet another appeal, in that case tied to the start of Ramadan and the April 25th observance in Eqypt of Sinai Liberation Day.

The contagion’s obvious dangers for prison populations worldwide were under discussion in many nations, and Einarsson said, “This year’s Ramadan pardon list is even more important as the world tries to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. We appeal for Khaled’s release so he can be with his family at this very difficult time.”

In this case, IPA was citing the second article of Cairo’s pardoning decree No. 157, but the organization’s appeal again did not succeed, even as the start of Ramadan that spring coincided with the announced end of extended lockdown orders.

Winners of the IPA Prix Voltaire

The eight winners of the IPA’s Prix Voltaire for valor in the face of oppression comprise:

  • Thanapol Eawsakul (Thailand, awarded 2022)
  • Lokman Slim (Lebanon, awarded 2021)
  • Pham Doan Trang (Vietnam, awarded 2020)
  • Khaled Lotfy (Egypt, awarded 2019)
  • Gui Min Hai (Sweden/Hong Kong, awarded 2018)
  • Turhan Günay and Evrensel Publishing (Turkey, awarded 2017)
  • Raif Badawi (Saudi Arabia, awarded 2016)
  • Ihar Lohvinau (Belarus, awarded 2014)

In 2022, it was heartening for those who understand the value and importance of the Prix Voltaire in the world publishing community to see that the program’s prize-funding profile has improved, with a group of seven publishers this time contributing (two more than the five hardy Nordic publishers in the previous year) to the 10,000-Swiss-franc purse (US$10,817).

This year’s list of contributors comprises:

Prix Voltaire nominees are publishers–individuals, groups, or organizations–who stand firm on the freedom to publish, whether as longstanding defenders of these values or having recently published works despite pressure, threats, intimidation or harassment from various sources.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the IPA Prix Voltaire is hereMore coverage of the International Publishers Association is here. More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which factors into this story, is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.