A man who was arrested from a café in November after making “anti-religious” posts on Facebook was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of LE1000 for “contempt of religion” on Saturday.
In a statement, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression said Karim al-Banna was arrested along with a number of other people who were also accused of using social media to propagate anti-religious sentiments.
The statement did not elaborate on whether or not those arrested with Banna remain detained or faced the same charges.
Article 64 of the Constitution states that “freedom of religion is absolute.” While atheism is not technically illegal under Egyptian law, “contempt of heavenly religions,” desecrating religious symbols and mocking religious rites in public are illegal.
Article 160 of the penal code states that the desecration of religious symbols is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or fines of up to LE500. Article 161 assigns the same penalties for mocking a religion or religious practices.
Article 98(f) states that ridiculing the Abrahamic faiths and the propagation of atheism in words, writing, or other means, is punishable by sentences of up to five years in prison and/or fines of up to LE1000.
There have been several other recent examples of atheists facing prosecution in Egypt. Sherif Gaber, a 20-year-old university student, was arrested in October 2013 for anti-religious posts he made on Facebook.
In March 2014, police announced the forming of a task force to arrest a group of atheists in Alexandria over their comments on social media.
Amin Ezz al-Din, the chief of Alexandria Security Directorate, said — during a program about atheism in Egypt on Mohamed Moussa’s talk show “Redline” — that the police would “legalize” arrest procedures against contentious activists.
The show included a telephone interview with the openly-atheist, Alexandria-based activist Mostafa Zakareya, who stated that it was not his intention to insult Islam, only to defend freedom of belief in Egypt.
Author Karam Saber was sentenced to five years in prison in 2012 for his book of short stories, “Where is God?” which he appealed in June 2014.
Activist Alber Saber was sentenced to three years in prison in January 2013 for insulting religion after posting a video promoting atheism on his Facebook page.
In June 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement calling on Egypt to repeal its blasphemy laws, based on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (IICCPR), upholding the rights to freedom of expression, which Egypt is party to. According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Egypt’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with Article 19.
Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East and North Africa director for HRW, stated, “Although Egyptian authorities claim blasphemy laws maintain social peace, they often have the opposite effect. Prosecuting people for beliefs peacefully expressed validates, rather than combats, intolerance.”