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Egyptian blogger convicted for blasphemy

The Center for Inquiry's Campaign for Free Expression has been lobbying for Alber Saber's release
The Center for Inquiry's Campaign for Free Expression has been lobbying for Alber Saber's release

Center for Inquiry

UPDATE: Coptic blogger released on bail, appeal court urged to overturn his conviction (RSF, 21 December 2012).

(Index on Censorship/IFEX) - A 27 year-old Egyptian blogger has been released on bail pending an appeal of his 12 December conviction for blasphemy and contempt of religion. He was sentenced to three years in jail.

A Coptic Christian turned atheist, Alber Saber was arrested at his home three months ago after neighbours accused him of circulating the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims on his Facebook page. Although Saber denied the charge — and the prosecutor did not produce any evidence to support that claim — he was convicted and kept behind bars in a tiny cell at Cairo's Tora prison until his release on Monday.

Saber ran an atheist group on Facebook and the prosecution is based on comparative religion material found on his bookshelf and statements critical of Islam found on his computer. Atheists do not get an easy ride in Egypt.

Looking haggard after his ordeal, in an interview with Index on Sunday he remained defiant saying “no price is too high for freedom.” We talked while Saber was in the Fifth Settlement Court signing papers to appeal his case. He was handcuffed but was in high spirits after learning that he would be released the following day. He was accompanied by his mother, Kariman Messiah and his lawyer Ahmed Ezzat from the Association for Free Thought and Expression.

Saber unzipped his high collar white track suit to show me a brown scar on his throat. “Inmates at El Marg prison where I was first taken after my arrest stabbed me in the throat after the prison guard told them I had insulted Islam,” he recounted, “I'm lucky I'm still alive.”

Ezzat said the case does not auger well for free expression in Egypt under President Mohamed Morsi's Islamist rule. A draft constitution being put to a popular vote limits religious freedom to followers of the three Abrahamic faiths: Muslims, Christians and Jews. “[R]eligious practices are allowed as long as they do not disturb public order” and the document bans “insulting prophets” — a prohibition that analysts say “will open the door to arrests of bloggers and activists.” Islamists say that a majority yes-vote would usher in stability while opposition groups believe that it will plunge the country into a deeper political crisis.

Saber's biggest regret is that he was not be able to vote “No” on the consitution he suspects will consolidate power for the Muslim Brotherhood. The first round of the referendum on the draft constitution was held on Saturday while Saber was still behind bars. He says:

I was jailed because we live in a theocracy. The 'Islamist' constitution will limit creativity and freedom of expression further

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