EIPR condemns referral of faculty member to trial on charges of "harassing" the Bishop of Menoufia and contempt of Christianity

Press Release

16 January 2024

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) voices its dismay at the referral of Kirollos Refaat Nashed, an assistant lecturer at the Menoufia University to trial in Case No. 115 of 2023 (Menouf – Economic Misdemeanour), based on a complaint filed by Anba Benjamin, the Archbishop of Menoufia, on a background of religious discussions between the lecturer and the priests of the Martyr Mar Girgis Church in Menouf.

In his complaint, Bishop Benjamin said that Nashed’s posts on Facebook caused him harm and deemed it defamatory and slanderous.

EIPR warns that the referral of Nashed to trial comes within a context of the crackdown on freedom of expression by institutions and individuals seeking to impose their religious guardianship on citizens in a climate that restricts public freedoms,  supported by state institutions, which should have defended the citizens' right to freedom of belief and practice of religious rites.

EIPR is further concerned that the legal articles, according to which Nashed is subjected to trial, are broad and unclear and would pave the way to the inspection of citizens' consciences and beliefs in violation of the constitution and law.

Therefore, EIPR calls for the immediate release of Nashed, as there is no justification in the charges against him for holding him in pretrial detention, as his place of residence is known and there is no fear that he might escape or destroy evidence, if any.

According to several testimonies obtained byEIPIR, the dispute between Nashed and members of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Menoufia was triggered by religious discussions, based on which the priests of Mar Girgis Church accused him of being a Protestant and decided to prevent him from church service. When Nashed complained to the Bishop of Menoufia, he was banned from entering the Orthodox churches in the cities of Menouf and Shebin al-Kom. On the occasions when Nashed tried to attend masses or to pray within the churches’ premises, he was also physically assaulted and hustled away. Several complaints were filed on these incidents.

On January 3rd, Nashed went to Menouf police station and filed complaint No. 57 of 2024 (Menouf police station – administrative), complaining that two unidentified people came to his workplace and threatened him. He was detained under the pretext of an arrest warrant issued against him, pending investigations conducted by the Menouf prosecution based on complaint No. 5 filed on 12 November 2023 by Magdy Sobhy Abdel Ghani,  the legal representative of Bishop Benjamin.

In his complaint, Abdel Ghani said Bishop Benjamin was harmed by Nashed’s Facebook posts that contained defamation, slander, and false allegations against the bishop. He further said the posts "caused serious material and moral damage" that he did not specify. Nashed learned that on Dec 7th  2023 the prosecution looked into a complaint filed by a person called Kirollos Emad Girgis, accusing Nashed of publishing posts and videos "in which he insulted Christian symbols, including the Holy Spirit, Mary and saints".

The Public Prosecution charged Nashed with violating Egyptian family principles and values, violating the privacy of Bishop Benjamin (whose birth name is Michael Younan), and publishing the posts in question on social media without Bishop Benjamin’s consent.

Nashed was also charged with insulting and defaming Bishop Benjamin by attributing to him things that, “if true, would lead his peers to disrespect him” and creating and running a Facebook account to commit the crimes stated in the abovementioned accusations. He also faced charges of intentionally harassing Bishop Benjamin by misusing telecommunications equipment to commit the said crimes, disdaining Christianity by promoting extremist ideas, harming social peace, and promoting this on Facebook.

The Public Prosecution described the criminal act in more than one way during the investigation, which is a clear violation aimed at harshening the sentence. In addition to Article 98 (f) on what is known as "contempt of religions," the prosecution charged Nashed with "violating the family principles and values" stated in Law No. 175 of 2018 on Combating Information Technology Crimes, and "intentionally harassing the victim using the telecommunications equipment" stated in Law No. 10 of 2003 on regulating telecommunications. All these charges are broad and unconstitutional and might lead Nashed to imprisonment for years.

Nashed denied all the charges levelled against him. However, the prosecution remanded him in custody for four days. Then, it renewed his detention for 15 days before the case was referred to the Economic Court, which set Tuesday, January 16th, to investigate it.