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Egyptian Christian sentenced to three years in prison for 'insulting religion'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The democratically elected administration of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt has led to widespread disappointment in the West. A few months in power, Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood party has granted himself sweeping powers that aligns him with the dictators of old. In yet another grim sign that all is not well in Africa's most populous nation, a Christian there has been sentenced to three years in prison for "insulting religion."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Upheaval in the Middle East, demonstrated by a terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya that left four dead has been blamed on an amateur video. "The Innocence of Muslims," an inept film that blasphemes against the Prophet Mohammed has been used as an ostensible reason to enact anti-blasphemy laws across the Arab world.

An Egyptian court last week sentenced Alber Saber to three years in prison for insulting Islam. These instances of blasphemy prosecution cases have been on the rise since Hosni Mubarak's ouster and are only likely to intensify if the country's draft constitution is approved.

Saber, a Christian, was reportedly convicted for a video he produced in which he was criticized of organized religion, likely Islam. While human rights advocates protest, Morsi has vowed to frame the country's constitution around shariah law.

"It's a heavy sentence, and any independent court looking into the case would release him because there are huge procedural mistakes . never mind that this is actually a crime that shouldn't be on the books to begin with," Amr Gharbeia, civil liberties director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights says.

Blasphemy laws in Egypt were not part of the previous constitution but are indeed included in the country's new charter, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The current charter includes a clause specifically prohibits slandering "prophets." Such a clause only makes overturning convictions all the more difficult on the grounds of their constitutionality.

"In a somewhat unusual step, the judge ruled that Saber could be released on bail today until his appeal is heard. But though his lawyers paid the bail, about $162, police returned him to prison instead of releasing him. Lawyer Ahmed Ezzat says he will attempt to secure Saber's release tomorrow. [...]," an article in the Monitor reads.

"According to his lawyer and family, his mother called police when an angry mob gathered outside his home in a working-class area on the outskirts of Cairo and accused him of burning the Quran and insulting Islam. The crowd threatened to kill him and burn down his house, they said."

Authorities reportedly found a video in which he criticizes organized religion. The prosecutor used this as evidence to charge him with insulting religion under a vague clause in Egypt's penal code that criminalizes the denigration of religion.

Gharbeia maintains that the case against Saber should have been thrown out since the evidence was obtained without a warrant, but his lawyers are also challenging the ambiguity of these new blasphemy laws. Due to their vagueness, interpretation of what constitutes blasphemy and often falls in the hands of those with an agenda and is subject to gross abuse in its use against minorities.

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