The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) expressed concerns on Wednesday regarding freedom of expression in Egypt.
The EOHR said in a statement that the proliferation of contempt of religion lawsuits threatens free speech. It added that the legislations governing freedom of thought and expression should be amended to fit international conventions and treaties ratified by Egypt.
Author and novelist Youssef Ziedan was referred to investigations by the Supreme State Security Prosecution on Tuesday. Zeidan was accused of contempt of religion.
“Freedom of thought and expression is a right recognised by international conventions and treaties governing human rights,” said Hafez Abu Saada, secretary general of EOHR. “Yet the current domestic laws only aim at controlling media outlets.” He added that cases such as contempt of religion shouldn’t be addressed in court yet through objective dialogue and discussions.
Ziedan stated on Tuesday that he was referred to investigations because of a report filed against him by the Islamic Research Complex, which accuses him of contempt of religion, causing religious sedition and encouraging religious extremism. The accusations were based on Ziedan’s book, The Arab Theology, where Ziedan referred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam as religions which came through “messages from heaven”, and describing the religions as “three manifestations of the same essence”.
The EOHR stated that the Islamic Research Complex filed its report in 2010 following the release of Ziedan’s book. Nevertheless, the report wasn’t referred to prosecutors until recently.
The novelist denied that the investigation had anything to do with his other novel titled Azazil. In this novel the protagonist challenges Christian beliefs when weighed against philosophy and logic. Eleven Coptic rights organisations had filed a report to the prosecutor general in 2010 accusing Ziedan of contempt of the Christian religion. The organisations stated Ziedan taunts the doctrines of the trinity, unification and redemption adopted by Christians.
“I hereby ask all to bear witness that I shall not stop writing and spreading enlightenment,” Ziedan said on his Facebook page on Tuesday. “Better yet, I will make sure my coming projects are more beautiful, realistic, deeper and freer than before.”
Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboul Enein