Egyptian Government Must Release Two Detained for Shi'ite Beliefs and Torture Statements

Press Release

4 October 2007

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC) today urged the Ministry of Interior to immediately release two Egyptians detained for belonging to Shi’ite Islam and criticizing the government’s torture and detention policies. The two rights groups also called on the Public Prosecutor to drop all charges brought against the two men for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of belief and expression.

 Today the State Security Prosecutor’s Office concluded two days of interrogation of Mohamed El-Derini, secretary-general of the Supreme Council for the Care of the Prophet’s Family (al majlis al-a’la li ri’ayat ‘al al-beit). Derini is charged in case number 1061/2007 (state security) together with Ahmed Mohamed Sobh, director of the Imam Ali Center for Human Rights. Derini was detained at his house in Zeitun, Cairo early on 1 October, while Sobh was detained on 28 August in Mansura and only appeared before the State Security Prosecutor’s Office on 29 September. Both men are detained under administrative decrees issued by the Minister of Interior in accordance with the Emergency Law. They are being held in solitary confinement in Tora prison in southern Cairo.
The two men have been charged with “promoting extreme Shi’ite beliefs with the intent of causing contempt of the Islamic religion” and with “spreading false rumors and inciting propaganda that could promote terror amongst people, disturb public security and the rule of law and undermine the trust in security agencies through claiming that prisoners and detainees died as a result of torture in prisons.”

According to Adel Ramadan of the EIPR and Ahmed Ragheb of HMLC, who both represented Derini before the prosecutor’s office, investigations of the “contempt of religion” charge centered solely around Derini’s belonging to Shi’ite Islam and included questions such as “do you believe [the Prophet’s cousin] Ali should have become the first Caliph?” and “do you believe Muslims should fast on the [Shi’ite holiday of] Ashura?”  The prosecutor refused to note in the interrogation transcripts the defense lawyers’ objections to questions that challenged the religious beliefs of the defendant. At the end of the hearing the lawyers submitted a challenge against the constitutionality of Article 98 (f) of the Penal Code on “contempt of religion”, citing its violation of the rights to freedom of religion and expression, personal liberty and non-discrimination on religious grounds. The article stipulates a punishment of up to five years.
The charge of “spreading false rumors” is based on media interviews in which both Derini and Sobh criticized the ongoing detention and torture of thousands of Islamist detainees. Article 102 bis of the penal code includes a three-year prison term as punishment for this charge.
Both Sobh and Derini are former victims of torture and detention themselves. Sobh spent 15 years in administrative detention until early 2005 for suspected membership of the armed Islamic Group before converting to Shi’ite Islam. Derini was detained for 15 months in 2004 and 2005 without charge or trial and despite several court rulings ordering his release. The Public Prosecutor never opened an investigation into Derini’s claims that he was tortured and mistreated during his previous period of detention.

In a 2004 report entitled “Freedom of Belief and the Arrests of Shi’a Muslims in Egypt”, the EIPR had documented violations against Shi’ite Egyptians detained in several crackdowns conducted in 1988, 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2004. Those violations included arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, torture and mistreatment. None of the men detained in these crackdowns was ever referred to court and no security officers are known to have been investigated or punished for violating the rights of detainees.

For more information:
Hossam Bahgat, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights: (+20) 010 628 8928.
Ahmed Ragheb, Hisham Mubarak Law Center: (+20) 012 062 4003.