>> 10 October 2012
Me and Alber Saber in Tahrir Square, 29 January 2012
On the dawn of September 13, 2012, Egyptian authorities arrested my friend Alber Saber because he is an atheist. Twenty seven year old Alber, who comes from a Christian background, was tortured not only by Muslim police officers, but also by a Christian police officer. He has remained in prison since that time, and he is now being tried under the accusations of Insulting God and Insulting Religion.
Egypt has signed many international treaties which ensure freedom of expression, but the Egyptian penal code still has a list of approximately 20 laws that make certain opinions a crime.
These opinion laws consist of: criticizing the president, the parliament, the military, and the judiciary. Criticizing a foreign president such as Ahmadi Nigad or Bashar Al-Assad is also a crime which could land any journalist with a three year prison sentence. And of course criticizing religions or God is considered a crime as well.
When Alber was arrested, I remembered my friend Kareem Amer, a famous Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2007 for insulting Islam and the then current President Mubarak. Kareem suffered a great deal in prison. He was tortured several times, and spent a long time in solitary confinement under horrible conditions.
Alber’s arrest also reminded me of myself. Since he was arrested I have started having flashbacks from the bad experiences I went through last year. I was imprisoned in Egypt for 10 months, because of other opinion laws such as Insulting the Military Institution. I also remembered how the corrupt police officers Sayyed Abdel-Kareem & Mohammed Abdel-Rahman at El-Marg prison wanted to file a case against me, during my imprisonment in December 2012, accusing me of insulting Islam. I remembered how they tried to use this new case as a form of blackmail to keep me quiet, so that I would not speak about the torture I faced in El-Marg prison.
Alber is not the only opinion prisoner in Egypt accused of Criticizing Islam. There are at least four other opinion prisoners being held in Egypt charged with Criticizing Islam, and it is no surprise that all of them are Christians.
It started last year with Ayman Youseef Mansour, a 22 year old blogger, who was sentenced on October 22, 2011 to 3 years of prison because of his writings criticizing Islam on his Facebook page. Egyptian courts later refused his appeal, denying him his right to reconsider the severity sentence.
Ayman’s case was followed in January 2012 by the case of “Gamal Abdou Masoud”, a 17 year old from Asyut in Upper Egypt. Gamal was tagged on Facebook in a picture which criticized Islam. Angry mobs surrounded his house because of this picture, burned his house and the houses of other Christians in the village, and forced his family to leave the village. The police didn’t arrest anyone from these mobs. Instead, Gamal was sentenced to 3 years in prison for Insulting Islam.
Then in April 2012, another Christian was imprisoned for Insulting Islam. Makarem Diab Said, a teacher who was also from Asyut, was sentenced to 6 years, just because he said some aggressive words against Islam when he was quarrelling with one of his colleagues at work.
A few weeks ago, on September 12, 2012, a court in Sohag sentenced another Christian, Bishoy El-Beheri to 6 years in prison for Criticizing Islam and Criticizing President Mohammed Morsi. This case is very similar to Kareem’s. The only difference is that in Kareem’s case the punishment for criticizing President Mubarak was only one year in prison, but criticizing President Morsi now leads to 3 years in prison.
Many others are in prison under the same accusation and more will surely follow. The General Egyptian Prosecutor has just sent a case against Google officials to the State Security Investigations department in Egypt, because Google didn’t block the movie The Innocence of Muslims from its search engine.
Those activists suffer because Egypt doesn’t have an independent judiciary. Many cases take decades to go before the Egyptian court. But when the issue is political, they can finish the case in a few days, just as they finished my trial 12 days after my arrest in March 2011. They are now doing the same with Alber. Obviously there is a political reason for the Egyptian regime to jail Alber. They wish to intimidate Christians and make them leave the country. That is why Alber’s trial is being processed so fast. If there was proper international response, perhaps they would proceed with more caution. Alber is expected to be sentenced to 3 years imprisonment within a few weeks. There is campaign supporting his freedom on Facebook and Twitter, but there is not enough time for the campaign to gain enough traction.
The worst part is that this phenomenon of jailing bloggers with the accusation of Insulting Religion is wide spread now in Muslim countries. In Saudi Arabia, young blogger Hamza Kashgari is now in jail, accused of blasphemy, and could face the death sentence. In Tunisia, there are many of bloggers now being jailed under the same accusations, such as the two Bloggers Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, who were sentenced on March 28, 2012 to 7 ½ years in prison. In Morocco, Mohammed Socrates is spending 2 years in jail because he is an atheist, but the authorities in Morocco were smart enough to accuse him of narcotics trafficking, and there is no need to say that he confessed under torture!!!
Religion is just a collection of superstitions. I still can’t imagine that in the 21st century there are people going to prison because they do not believe that someone walked on water or a virgin gave birth to a child. There is no harm in criticizing religion. God doesn’t exist, and you can’t harm someone who doesn’t exist.