EIPR Concerned With The Court Verdict Against Islam el-Beheiry, Demands A Suspension Of Execution And Warns That The Case Is But A Proof Of Menace To Freedoms By Agencies Desiring To Act As Guardians To Society
Egyptian Initiative of Personal Rights is deeply concerned with the court verdict issued yesterday by the court of misdemeanor appeal sentencing the researcher and TV reporter Islam el-Behiry to one year of imprisonment on charges of contempt of the religion of Islam. EIPR urged the public prosecutor to suspend the execution until the challenge against the verdict is settled. EIPR warned against the widespread pattern of security harassment of religious and sectarian minorities or the actual prosecution of those espousing opinions contrary to those held by the religious establishment or the dominant views among the Sunni majority, which is a threat to freedom of religion, thought, and freedom of opinion and expression, and contravenes the Constitution that prohibits imprisonment in publishing cases.
A report by the Islamic Research Academy, al-Azhar University, had attacked el-Beheiry’s program titled “With Islam” broadcast on al-Kahira wa-Nas, which discussed some elements of Islamic heritage critically. The report stated that the program destroys Islamic tenets and holds Islam in contempt. Consequently, a case was filed before the Court of Administrative Justice to suspend the program and prevent the reporter from appearing on satellite channels. At the same time, two lawsuits were filed by a number of attorneys: one before First Misdemeanor Court of 6th of October, which acquitted both the researcher and the owner of the channel from charges of holding religion in contempt, and the other before the Misdemeanor Court of Misr el-Qadima, which found the researcher guilty.
EIPR added that the action on which a verdict was issued was self-initiated action. The grounds of the court order in the first instance relied on the opinion of the Islamic Research Academy, which is a living example of the religious hesba cases, and another indicator of menace to freedom of opinion and expression by individuals and institutions who desire to act as censors on citizens – with results no less than their imprisonment.
EIPR researcher, Ishak Ibrahim, said, “This verdict reveals the true orientation of the state towards freedom of religion, belief, opinion and expression. It further confirms that the call for reviewing religious discourse has not so far developed beyond official speeches. In this regard, we would like to highlight the danger of having conservative tendencies control society in general. Defendants in such cases have lost the simplest forms of popular support for their fundamental rights.”
EIPR has documented more than 15 cases of security harassment and judicial prosecutions as of early this year, some of which resulted in conviction, while others are still heard in courts or are even being reviewed by prosecutors. The reported cases reached 48 at least as of the end of 2011 and up to early 2013. Some of the cases were limited to customary penalty, while others were subject to penal discipline by the workplace. However, 28 other cases were examined in courts throughout this period. Moreover, the cases increased progressively from 3 only in 2011 to 12 in 2012 reaching 13 in 2013; courts found 28 defendants out of 48 guilty, acquitted 3, and rejected the action in 11 cases because they were not filed by competent parties.
EIPR urged the amendment of articles restricting freedom in general and religious freedom in particular in Egyptian legislation, mainly article 98 (f), according to which the current defendant is convicted. This article criminalizes what is dubbed as “contempt of religion.” The organization also calls for a review of the language of legal drafting to eliminate ambiguous unclear expressions, so that the provisions would be precise and compliant with the Constitution and international human rights standards to which subsequent Egyptian governments have complied.
Follow attached the link to the report “Besieging thought: Blasphemy cases over two years from the revolution”