Confirming the sentence of one year with labor of Youssef Hani for charges of insulting Islam. EIPR calls for stopping trials for contempt of religion
On December 25, the Ismailia Misdemeanor Court of Appeal upheld the judgment issued by the Ismailia Third Misdemeanor Partial Court, in Misdemeanor No. 490 of 2022, of the Third Division of Ismailia. The decision ruled an imprisonment of Youssef Hani Helmy for a year with labor against accusation of exploiting religion to promote extremist ideas for contempt and transgression of the Islamic religion, upon a religious dispute with a female citizen on Facebook.
The Ismailia Misdemeanor Court had issued a ruling in absentia imprisoning the defendant, Youssef Hani, for three years with hard labor, before the ruling was contested, and the sentence was reduced to one year's imprisonment with a bail of ten thousand pounds.
According to the defendant’s father’s statement to EIPR lawyers, his son, Youssef Hani, a student in the second year at the Faculty of Arts, Suez Canal University, went to the National Security headquarters in Ismailia on November 10, 2020. There he spent a whole day without being investigated or presented to the prosecution, until he was brought to court the following day with a report claiming that he had been arrested from his home. The defendant was interrogated inside the Ismailia Security Directorate, before he was referred to the Public Prosecution Office, to be questioned about his views and activities, against the background of a group of people taking a “screenshot” of a selection of his widely shared comments on social media. These communications were submitted to the Public Prosecution demanding a trial for Youssef Hani.
At the time, the Public Prosecution issued a statement stating that “the Monitoring and Analysis Unit in the Office of the Public Prosecutor monitored widespread circulation on social media of a copy of a text conversation attributed to a person residing in Ismailia Governorate, which constitutes a crime of contempt for the Islamic religion by insulting the Prophet of God, May God Bless Him and Grant Him Peace. By presenting the matter to the Public Prosecutor, he ordered an urgent investigation into the incident, which was registered under No. 4165 of 2020, third administrative district of Ismailia”.
The Ismailia Prosecution ordered Yusef Hani to be imprisoned for four days, pending investigations into the incidents of his accusation of contempt for the Islamic religion and defamation of the Prophet Muhammad. A decision was also issued to detain Nada Mahmoud, a young woman, accused in the same incident of contempt of the Christian religion, for four days pending investigations, under the pretext of participating in a religious debate.
On November 14, 2020, the appeal judge at the Ismailia Court issued a decision to release Youssef Hani and Nada Mahmoud, after they submitted an apology before the court, and confirmed respect for all religions.
Ironically, the opinion memorandum by the Public Prosecution included the exclusion of the second defendant from the case. It also stated that it was unable to identify or reach users of the rest of accounts, and only Youssef Hani was referred to trial.
On February 3, 2022, the case was registered as a misdemeanor under Articles 98 (f) and 171/5 of the Penal Code, and the referral order stated, “On November 10, 2020, in the Ismailia Department, the defendant exploited religion in promoting, in writing and publishing, extremist ideas through public publishing on the world wide web, with the intent of stirring discord, insult and contempt for one of the divine religions, and harming national unity, by taking the Islamic law as a starting point for promoting dialogue and broadcasting on the web extremist ideas, based on insulting the Prophet and undermining his dignity, infallibility and honorable morals, and insulting and mocking those who belong to the Islamic religion, with the intent of provoking discord, insult and contempt for the Islamic religion”. Then the case was submitted to the Misdemeanor Court in Ismailia, which issued a ruling in absentia of 3 years imprisonment, before the ruling was appealed, as mentioned above.
This ruling comes in the context of the prosecution, detention, and trial of many citizens for expressing opinions on issues related to the nature of religions or comparing them. For example, on Saturday, January 29, 2022, the Economic Court of Cairo Governorate, the Misdemeanor Circuit, in Case No. 121 of 2022 (financial misdemeanors), registered against Marco Gerges Salib Shehata, sentenced him to five years in prison with labor, confiscating his mobile phone, and obliging him to pay criminal expenses. This was against the background of charges of exploiting religion to promote extremist ideas, contempt for the Islamic religion, and violating the values of the Egyptian family.
Last September the Disciplinary Appeals Examination Department of the Supreme Administrative Court issued a ruling rejecting the appeal filed by Dr. Mona Prince, Lecturer in English language at the Faculty of Education, Suez Canal University. The court maintained the appealed ruling of the administrative court of expelling Dr. Prince from her position, while maintaining her pension of honorarium, for committing what the court perceived as the spread of destructive ideas that contradict divine beliefs and public order, when she talked to her students about “challenging the constants of religion,” according to the text of the ruling.
EIPR reiterates its view that many penal provisions contain ill-defined, vague, and loose phrases, including Article 98(f) of the Penal Code (contempt of religion). EIPR also condemns the prosecution of citizens who express religious ideas different from those prevailing in society or adopted by the state and calls for guaranteeing freedom of belief and freedom of expression as rights guaranteed by the constitution; it also calls for an immediate halt to trials for “contempt of religion” in accordance with Article 98 (f) of the Penal Code.