After sentencing Demiana Abdelnour with a 100 thousand pounds fine Religion defamation claims have become a weapon for the oppression of religious minorities

Thursday 13 June 2013

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemn the ruling by Luxor court of misdemeanor to fine Coptic teacher Demiana Abdelnour a sum of 100 thousand Egyptian pounds, while referring the civil component of the claim to the respective civil court in case no. 1647/2013 filed by the public prosecution. The increased use of this claim indicates it has become a tool for the authorities to suppress and violate freedom of expression and belief.

The two organizations recognize attempts by the authorities to restrict freedom of expression by using those charges in the oppression of religious minorities and those who hold views outside the mainstream. Monitoring cases of defamation of religion over the few past months indicates a dangerous tendency towards obvious religious discrimination against those targeted by those charges, since most of them belong to religious minority groups. Demiana Abdelnour is not the first victim but has been preceded by more than 10 similar cases since the 25th of January revolution, most notably the case against blogger Albert Saber, teacher Bichoy Kamil, lawyer Romani Murad, Ahmadi lawyer Mostafa Hassan and Shiite teacher Mohamed Asfour.

Demiana Abdelnour is a teacher at the Sheikh Sultan primary school, in the center of Adasat, Tod village in the governorate of Luxor. Her case began when one of the parents of her students filed a complaint against her accusing her of defamation of Islam during her teaching the curriculum of social studies. The school investigated the matter internally, asking many students, most of whom denied the allegations made against her. Demiana herself explained to AFTE lawyer that all she did was draw a comparison between religions during ancient, middle and modern times and in accordance to the curriculum.  

The public prosecution had ordered the arrest of Demiana Abdelnour on the 4th of May 2013. She was questioned on the 8th of May since the prosecution ordered her detention for 4 days pending investigations. She was then summoned again in front of the magistrate on the 11th of May and her detention was extended for another 15 days, after which the case was scheduled for ruling, postponed twice and the sentence spoken yesterday.

It is noteworthy that the public prosecution accused Demiana Abdelnour of committing the misdemeanor of defamation of religion according to article 161 of the penal code, after completing the investigations, extending her detention for 4 days and then again for 15 days and then ordering her release on a bail of 20 thousand pounds.

Although article 161 of the penal code, by which Demiana Abdelnour was sentenced, specifies the punishment by imprisonment and/or a fine no less than 100 and not more than 500 pounds, the court punished her by a fine of 100 thousand pounds in violation of the law, which makes the sentence legally absolutely invalid.

AFTE and EIPR call upon Egyptian authorities to undertake the necessary legislative measures to stop this kind of trials, as well as calls upon the public prosecutor to reconsider such complaints made to the prosecution in view of their clearly malicious nature and the usual indictment of their victims based on weak evidence and sometimes in the absence of any evidence at all.

Furthermore the ministry of justice bears the responsibility of transferring trials for defamation of religion to Cairo, to enable proper defense especially since several lawyers of defense in such cases have been subjected to harassment and persecution.