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Egyptian rights lawyer sentenced to 5 years for defamation of religion

The undersigned organizations condemn the sentence in absentia by the Beba court of misdemeanor in Beni Eouief against writer and human rights activist and director of the Land Center for Human Rights, Karam Saber.

The case concluded with a prison sentence of five years and a 1000 EGP (US$143) bail. It was filed against him in view of his story collection “Where is God” released in 2011.

The case began on the 12th of April 2011 when a number of citizens in Beni Souief governorate filed a complaint to the general attorney of the Beni Soueif prosecution accusing Karam Saber of calling for atheism, defaming divinity, and inciting strife in his collection of 11 short stories.

The prosecution undertaking the investigations consulted the church in Beni Souief as well as the Al Azhar mosque seeking their opinions and whether the accusations were correct.

The church expressed its opinion that the content of this literary work contradicts divine religions, ridicules the divine and invents stories that are far from noble and sophisticated literature. The opinion of Al Azhar did not differ much stating that the literary work destroys the intellectual values of Egyptian society.

Both institutions demanded that the book be banned from circulation since it negatively affects society. In view of this debate, Al Ahram and Al Akhbar publishing houses refused to disseminate the book through their distribution channels, which led the author to distribute it personally to different bookshops.

The sentence against Saber is the third of its kind within the span of one week, preceded by a one-year prison sentence against lawyer Romani Murad Saad for defamation of religion and another sentence of 100,000 EGP (US$14300) fine by the Luxor Court of Misdemeanor against teacher Demiana Abdelnour also for defamation of religion, a crime that over the past few months has come to constitute a threat to everybody who has views that differ from mainstream schools of thought or who wishes to express his/her views in different ways.

The undersigned organizations believe that the conduct of the prosecution in dealing with vague complaints filed against citizens accusing them of defamation of religion is raising questions regarding the role of the prosecution and the efforts it makes in providing evidence of the alleged charges. The prosecution has chosen to summon the accused subjects and interrogate them and refer them to trial irrespective of available evidence, thereby abusing its authority and reflecting that its decisions are influenced by its religious sentiments.

The undersigned organizations also wish to express their views that Al Azhar and the church are not at all entitled to evaluate a literary work, since any such work is a product of the writer's imagination and hence not subject to interference by any religious institution. The decision of whether a certain literary work is corrupting society, the criteria of which, according to religious institutions, remain unknown, is not theirs either. Also, what are the credentials of those institutions to evaluate literary work and are they entitled to control people's imagination by claiming that it encourages corruption or tears the fabric of Egyptian society?

The five-year prison sentence against Karam Saber is a new blow to freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt. The charge of defamation of religion has become a widely used charge with the access of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to power. MB supporters take benefit of the loose and unconstitutional provisions of the penal code in that regard, to achieve political and social gains.

It is therefore that the undersigned organizations hold Egyptian authorities responsible for those violations in view of their silence towards amending those restrictive provisions, which belong to an era of despotism and which they were expected to terminate.

Instead they added new restrictive provisions beginning with constitutional provisions that restrict freedom of expression, to maintaining punitive measures against all forms of innovation and concluding with defamation cases which not only try individuals for exercising their right to free expression but also searches their minds for strength of belief and mainstream conviction.

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Other Signatories

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Center for Appropriate Communication Techniques (ACT)
Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Nazra for Feminist Studies

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