Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Egyptian atheist Alber Saber sentenced to 3 years in prison for insulting religion

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Alber Saber has been convicted for insulting religion
A 27-year-old man from Cairo was today sentenced to three years in prison for "insulting religion", in the latest development in a case that has prompted global outcry from human rights activists concerned about the future of freedom of belief in post-revolutionary Egypt.

As we reported in September, Alber Saber was arrested at the height of the controversy over the crude anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, after an angry mob gathered outside his home and accused him of editing a Facebook page for Egyptian atheists and posting links to the offending film. Following his arrest, Saber was physically assaulted with a razor blade in his jail cell by a fellow prisoner.

Saber was charged and convicted under Article 98(w) of the Egyptian Penal Code, which outlaws the use of religion to “promote extremist thoughts with the intention of creating dissent or insulting a Abrahamic religion” or “undermining national unity”.

Reports suggested that Saber was expected to be released today following payment of bail of $167, pending appeal, but it is not yet clear whether this has been permitted by the court.

The news of Saber's conviction follows the publication this week of a new report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union which documents the state-sanctioned human rights abuses against non-believers in many parts of the world.

The report covers laws affecting freedom of belief and conscience in 60 countries, and lists many individual cases involving the denial of atheists' right to exist, the curtailing of their freedom of belief and expression, the revoking of their right to citizenship, the restriction of their right to marry, the obstruction of their access to public education, bans on their holding public office, the prevention of their working for the state, the criminalisation of their criticism of religion, and the execution of them for apostasy.

In addition to the case of Saber, whose photo appears on the cover, the report covers a large number of cases, including:
  • In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was jailed for two-and-a-half years for Facebook posts on atheism.
  • In Tunisia, two young atheists, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for Facebook postings that were judged blasphemous.
  • In Turkey, pianist and atheist Fazil Say faces jail for “blasphemous” tweets.
  • In Greece, Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page that poked fun at Greeks' belief in miracles and is now charged with insulting religion.
  • In Egypt, 17-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in jail, and Bishoy Kamel was imprisoned for six years, both for posting “blasphemous” cartoons on Facebook.
The full report can be downloaded [PDF] from the IHEU website.

Update, 12/12/12, 4.30pm: An Amnesty International press release provides quotes in reaction to the conviction of Alber Saber.

His mother, Kariman Mesiha Khali, said:
“This is pure injustice … I can’t believe during the investigations the boy was asked about his religion and how he practices it, this is none of their business, it’s been three months and I can’t eat or sleep because I can only see him 10 minutes per week. I am calling for Alber to be released, he is just someone who says what he believes, and on the other hand [for the authorities to] try to catch the people who are really inciting violence.”
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme said:
“This is an outrageous verdict and sentence for a person whose only ‘crime’ was to post his opinions online. This conviction will ruin his life, whether he serves the sentence or not. The court should have thrown the case out on the first day, yet now he’s been branded as having insulted religion.”
The Amnesty release also sheds some light on the legal process that surrounded his case:
"The activist’s lawyer told Amnesty International that his client’s trial was marred by the judge’s refusal to allow the defence to call key witnesses – including the arresting and investigating officers, and the individuals who first filed the complaints against Alber Saber Ayad.

While he was held at Cairo’s El Marg Police Station, a police officer reportedly incited other detainees to attack him. During his trial he was also held in poor conditions in Tora Prison – his cell was next to a sewer and lacked light or clean water until human rights organizations filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor on his behalf."
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