After Luxor Appellate Misdemeanor Court gives teacher six months for defamation of religion: Religious minorities and persons of conscience increasingly prosecuted using unconstitutional laws
*EIPR urges political authorities to intervene to stop these trials, which undermine citizenship and guarantees for religious freedoms
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) expressed concerned about the growing frequency of trials on charges of religious defamation targeting religious minorities and those holding beliefs at odds with the Sunni Muslim majority, in light of sentences given to defendants in such trials in recent months, especially in the Luxor governorate.
EIPR followed with great distress the proceedings in the Luxor Appellate Misdemeanor Court on Sunday, which sentenced Coptic teacher Demiana Obeid Abd al-Nour to six months in prison on charges of defaming Islam. On 11 June 2013, the Luxor Summary Misdemeanor Court had fined Abd al-Nour LE100,000 and referred the civil case to the competent civil court, ruling in case no. 1647/2013/Luxor misdemeanor.
This is the third case in Luxor this year. The same court—the Luxor Appellate Court—on 13 April ruled on case no. 672/2014, in a session presided over by Judge Ahmed Abd al-Maqsoud, giving six-month prison sentences to Shahira Mohamed Ahmed Suleiman and Khalifa Mohamed Khair on charges of defaming Islam; the court ordered the two defendants to pay all court costs. The first-instance Luxor court had acquitted the two defendants of defamation and fined the first defendant LE100 for not having identification on 19 February 2014. The Public Prosecution appealed the ruling.
Currently Kirollos Shawqi Atallah is being tried for defaming Islam on a Facebook page called the Knights of the Cross. The Armant Misdemeanor Court, located in the Luxor governorate, ruled to adjourn until 24 June.
“The situation in the Luxor governorate is worrying,” said Ishaak Ibrahim, an officer with EIPR’s freedom of religion and belief program. “It’s gotten to where filing a police report accusing someone of religious defamation is enough to put them in jail. This is especially true since there is a tendency to try defendants on moral grounds instead of based on the application of the actual criminal statutes in the Penal Code. In addition, given the lack of diligent investigations, the security apparatus often arrests the accused without establishing the truth of the complaint or its legal basis. Investigators’ reports, which are given to the Public Prosecution, are typically identical to the original defamation complaints.” Ibrahim added, “These cases are the first true test of the new political leadership’s commitment to the values of citizenship and constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion and belief. It has the authority to pardon persons convicted in these cases.”
EIPR cautioned that freedom of opinion and expression is imperiled by individuals and institutions that seek to impose moral guardianship on the citizenry, in a climate hostile to liberties and supported by the governing authority. The legal provisions under which defendants are prosecuted violate well-entrenched constitutional rights, most especially Article 98(f), which infringes equal protection of the law, does not comply with constitutional rules for criminal codes and restricts rights and liberties.
From 2011 to the end of 2013, the EIPR documented 48 defamation cases involving harassment and prosecution. In some of these cases, only customary sanctions were applied while in others, the accused face disciplinary penalties. In 28 of these cases, however, defendants were prosecuted in court. The frequency of these types of cases increased as well, from only 3 in 2011 to 12 in 2012 and 13 in 2013. The court convicted 27 of 42 defendants in these cases, acquitting three defendants and denying to hear the cases of 11 defendants, due to lack of standing. The trial of one defendant, Sherif Gaber, is still pending before a misdemeanor court.
EIPR urges changes to laws restricting freedoms that violate constitutional rights and international human rights conventions. It also asks the Ministry of Justice to move the trial of Kirollos Shawqi to the Cairo governorate, while ensuring an environment conducive to a fair trial for all defendants, to uphold their right to a defense.
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