15 December 2012

Egypt: The Prison Sentence Against Alber Saber - Another Nail in the Coffin of Democracy

press release

The undersigned organizations express their great dismay at the court 3 years prison sentence by El Marg court of misdemeanor yesterday against Alber Saber, accused of defamation of religion. The court also ruled that Alber should pay a 1000 LE bail, while rejecting the civil claim made against him by a number of citizens.

The public prosecution had accused Alber of disseminating through the internet of material that is punishable by article 98, 102, 160 and 161 of the criminal code, all of which regulate crimes of defamation of religions and incitement of thrive. Despite the payment of the bail by Alber's defense pending the outcome of the appeal process, the court sent him back to prison, obstructing his release for unknown reasons and without ordering any procedures for his release which is the normal consequence of bailing him out. Alber's lawyer said that at present Alber is illegally held in detention and should have immediately released upon payment of the bail pending the decision of the court of appeal.

Alber Saber was arrested last September when some of his neighbors accused of defaming religions on his social media accounts, upon which they gathered around his residence, chanting inciting slogans against him, which led his mother to call the police asking for help for fear the crowd might break into her house. The police came but instead of protecting her and her son arrested him and took him to El Marg police station as well as confiscated his computer. Inside the police station Alber was subject to physical assault upon incitement by one of the station officers, a fact that was officially documented with the prosecution. The aggression extended beyond Alber to include his mother who received murder threats and threats of burning her house if she did not leave, forcing her eventually to do so.

The undersigned organizations consider this court sentence a starting point in an endless series of violations of freedom of thought and expression in general and freedom of belief in particular, a warning by a state which is hostile to the rights of minorities, as evidenced by the provisions of the new draft constitution which limits freedom of belief to the three main religions, closing the door to any objective criticism and considering any opinion related to religion as blasphemy, incitement of thrive etc. to the end of all vague formulations which can be easily translated into charges against anybody whose opinion differs from that of the "majority".

The undersigned organizations believe this court sentence to be a message to all opponents to the new unfolding religious dictatorship in Egypt, that any view contrary to the official mainstream is a breach of legitimacy and a crime deserving punishment and imprisonment. The organizations also believe that such a cruel verdict against a Coptic citizen because of his expression of his views on his personal social media account is a matter involving major violation of justice and abuse of power against religious minorities.

The undersigned organizations hold all government bodies responsible for the harm against Alber Saber and his family and any more harm that could befall them in view of the incitement permitted against them; as well as call for a cancellation of all punitive provisions that criminalize criticism of religions both in the law or the new draft constitution. Freedom of expression is a basic human right according to all constitutions, international conventions and agreements and should never lead to imprisonment of the person involved even if contrary to general public opinion. Lack of respect of that right signifies the beginnings of a state of oppression and dictatorship which is being established now and which should be immediately replaced by a state of law, freedom and equality.

Signatories:

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

Hisham Mubarak Law Center

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence

Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights

Nazra for Feminist Studies

Center for Appropriate Communication Techniques (ACT)

Center for Egyptian Women Issues

Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of Childhood

Land Center for Human Rights

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