Monday, 17 September 2012

Egyptian atheist faces prison for insulting religion

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Alber Saber faces up to three years in prison
This a guest post by Austin Mackell, a freelance reporter based in Cairo

The latest victim of the wave of indignation sweeping the Middle East, this time in reaction to the film Innocence of Muslims is an Egyptian atheist, Alber Saber. He was arrested in Cairo on 12 September and charged with insulting religion, a charge which carries a possible sentence of up to three years.

According to his family, who I met with in the offices of Egypt’s Democratic Front in downtown Cairo, Saber had his neck slashed by a fellow inmate at the El-Marg police station, when police informed his cellmates why he had been arrested. In the heated climate surrounding the reaction to the anti-Muslim film, Saber’s friends and family are deeply concerned for his safety. He has told his family he is going on hunger strike until he is released.

Also present at the meeting in support of Saber was the brother of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak political prisoner, the pacifist anti-military blogger Maikel Nabil, who also brought attention to his plight via a hunger strike, and the founder of the Egyptian Secular Society, Ahmed Saeed. On the steps outside more young, cleanshaven Egyptians were gathered, one in heated debate with a bearded passer-by.

Though from a Coptic Christian family Saber is an atheist, and the administrator of the Egyptian Atheists Facebook page, the largest of several such groups online with over a thousand “likes”. Although not exactly undercover (he had posted several atheist videos online using his own name and showing his face), Saber did not advertise his non-belief within his neighbourhood. On Wednesday 12 September, while borrowing Saber’s computer, one of his friends, a Muslim, stumbled across his online atheist activity. He also saw that someone had posted a link to Innocence of Muslims on the atheist Facebook page. An argument ensued that quickly became physical and spilled out onto the street.

Soon crowds of angry Muslim neighbours began to gather outside his house, threatening Saber and his mother. When crowds came again the following night Saber’s mother Kariman Mesiha Khalil called the police in the hope they would disperse the mob outside and arrest the ringleaders. Instead they arrested her son. After his arrest his mother told me that two men from the neighbourhood returned demanding “Jizya”, a tax historically imposed by conquering Muslim armies on locals such as Coptic Christians, who maintained their pre-Islamic faith. I asked her if she was considering emigrating with her son if he was released, to which she defiantly replied, “Why should I?”

You can show your support by liking the Free Alber Saber page on Facebook.
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