October 25, 2014

EGYPT: Egypt's Islamic Sharia Blasphemy Laws Are Oppressive. People Imprisoned For Being 'Accused' Of Defaming Islam. :/

Mada Masr News
written by Staff
Thursday June 19, 2014

After a Luxor court sentenced a Coptic teacher to six months in prison for defaming Islam, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued a press release on Thursday condemning the recent spate of blasphemy cases brought before Egyptian courts.

Since 2011, a total of 48 cases accusing the defendant of blasphemy or defamation of religion have been brought before the authorities, according to the EIPR statement, the majority of which targeted Egypt’s Christian minority.

The recent sentencing represents the third blasphemy trial to be heard by Luxor’s courts this year alone, according to the EIPR. The defendant in the case, Damiana Ebeid Abdel Nour, was previously found guilty of defaming Islam in June 2013, and was sentenced to an LE100,000 fine by the Luxor Misdemeanors Court.

In April of this year, the same court sentenced two Muslim defendants, Shaheera Suleiman and Khalifa Kheir, to six months in prison on the same charges.

Another Luxor court is also in the midst of trying Kirolos Atallah, a Coptic Christian, on charges of defaming Islam on his Facebook page. A verdict is expected in the case on June 24.

On June 4, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on the Egyptian authorities to repeal its blasphemy legislation and to refrain from prosecuting individuals for their writings, works or Internet activity.

This statement was issued specifically in regards to the case of author Karam Saber, who was prosecuted for his collection of short stories entitled “Aiyn Allah?” (Where is God?)

The day after HRW issued the statement, however, the author was sentenced to prison for his artistic work.

Although Saber and his lawyers claim that his book is not atheistic, on June 5, the Beba Misdemeanor Court in Beni Suef upheld a 5-year prison sentence levied against the author.

In another high-profile case, former Christian-turned-atheist Alber Saber — not related to Karam Saber — fled the country in January 2013 after he was found guilty of defaming Islam and disseminating atheist thought on his Facebook account. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in December 2012.

According to the Egyptian Penal Code, “Ridiculing the heavenly [Abrahamic] faiths, and the propagation of atheism in words, writing, or other means is punishable by sentences of imprisonment for up to five years, and/or fines of up to LE1,000.”

Other articles in the code further stipulate that desecrating religious symbols is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and/or fines of up to LE500, while mocking a religion or religious rite in public is a crime carrying the same penalties.

However, these articles appear to conflict with the freedoms stipulated in the Constitution ratified in early 2014.

Article 64 of the new Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedoms, while Article 65 safeguards freedom of thought, expression and opinion.
I just added my name to this petition. From the International Christian Concern Facebook page:

RAISE YOUR VOICE | Free Kirollos Atallah!

After liking a Christian Facebook page, Kirollos Atallah was sentenced to six years imprisonment for committing “blasphemy” under Islamic sharia law. Sign and share the petition calling on Egypt to drop all charges against Kirollos! ‪#‎FreedomToLike‬

The Economist
written by
March 14, 2014

A CONCISE but densely-packed briefing paper on the penalties faced by "blasphemers" in various countries has just been published by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an agency which is mandated by Congress to monitor liberty of conscience around the world and identify violators. The paper points out that governments which punish sacrilege are giving representatives of the state, from bureaucrats to judges to village elders, a kind of arbitrary power. This can very easily be used for nefarious purposes.
Blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness, as they empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals, minorities and dissenters. In practice, they have proven to be ripe for abuse and easily manipulated with false accusations...In contexts where an authoritarian government supports an established religious creed, blasphemy accusations are frequently used to silence critics or democratic rivals under the guise of enforcing religious piety.
It may be worth remembering that for much of human history (and perhaps even now in certain parts of the world) the first part of that statement would have been bewildering. In old-fashioned theocracies, and in modern totalitarian states, including atheist ones, it has always seemed natural that rulers should act as "arbiters of truth or...rightness". Their tasks have included the suppression of wrong ways of thinking, whether these were defined as religious heresies or deviations from the party line. And even in liberal-democratic countries, state authorities do act as "arbiters of truth" in all sorts of ways, for example in their education policies.

But the USCIRF paper is certainly right to stress that blasphemy laws can become a deadly weapon in the hands of an individual or faction with a personal or political grudge. That sort of abuse is widely reported in Pakistan, a country which the report singles out as by far the worst offender. The report lists 14 individuals known to be on death row for blasphemy and 19 others serving life sentences; countless others have been arrested for the "crime" and are awaiting sentencing, it says. One case has aroused indignation among prominent politicians in Britain: that of a 70-year-old British citizen with a history of mental illness who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court, apparently for writing letters claiming to be a prophet.

In its list of people facing criminal investigation, prison or even death for alleged blasphemy, the report mentions 10 countries in which Islam is the main religion—and Greece, whose constitution entrenches Orthodox Christianity. It is noted that Egypt has seen a sharp increase in the use of blasphemy-type laws, both during and after the Islamist rule of President Muhammad Morsi. In both Egypt and Pakistan, most people who fell foul of these laws were Muslim, but the legislation was used to a disproportionate extent against minority Christians. In Iran, blasphemers are charged under offences such as "spreading corruption on earth", while in Turkey a religiously-sceptical pianist received a suspended sentence for "publicly insulting values that are adopted by a part of the Turkish nation." Outside the Muslim world, countries such as India, Ireland, Poland and the Philippines have blasphemy laws but don't use them very often.

But why Greece? That country's inclusion reflects one notorious case. A young man received a 10-month sentence, against which he is appealing, for satirising the cult of an Orthodox monk, Father Paisios, who died in 1994 and is seen as a saint by many followers. Father Paisios had much to say about the virtues of humility, self-discipline and the need to avoid judging others; but in the Greek-nationalist blogosphere he is better known for various apocalyptic "prophecies" of war involving Greece, Turkey, Russia and other European powers. (People who knew the monk well have doubts about the authenticity of these sayings.) A young man called Philippos Loizos incurred the ire of Greece's far-right camp, and then of the law, by posing as an imaginary figure called "Father Pastitsios", named after a stodgy Greek dish. People will be quite surprised if the satirist actually goes to prison; it's not uncommon in Greece to receive a light sentence which can be bought off or suspended. Libertarians in Greece are justifiably indignant about the case. But it's not quite on a par with the lynchings, floggings and threatened executions of Pakistan.

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