The Beba Misdemeanour Court in Beni Sueif postponed on Tuesday the appeal filed by writer Karam Saber against a five-year prison sentence.
Saber is accused of contempt of religion for a book he wrote in 2010 entitled “Where is Allah”. His appeal was postponed until 22 October.
42 civil society organisations called for dropping all charges pressed against Saber. In a joint statement released on Monday, the organisations called on the state authorities as well as the 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the 2012 constitution to issue the necessary legislation against lawsuits restricting freedom of expression.
The book “Where is Allah” is made up of several short stories and was published in 2010. Saber’s sentence of five years in absentia and a bail of EGP 1,000 came after a group in Beni Suef governorate filed a complaint against Saber at Beni Suef’s prosecutor general’s office in 2011, accusing him of contempt of religion.
The book was analysed by both the Beni Suef diocese and Al-Azhar which both released similar reports saying that the book goes against religion.
After the reports were released, the case was referred to Homeland Security which backed up the reports by the religious institutions.
The signatory organisations criticised the public prosecution’s behaviour regarding the case, describing its decision to consult the diocese and Al-Azhar about incriminating a writer as an “unreasonable” act.
“Such religious institutions have no right to state their opinion regarding any creative or artistic work,” the statement read. The organisations added that such right is preserved to arts critics and readers.
The organisations also claimed legal violations were practiced during Saber’s investigation and trial. They accused the plaintiffs of hiding information which could have sent the case to a different court, alleging that the plaintiffs specifically targeted the Beni Suef court with the case.
The signatory organisations expressed their concern regarding the public prosecution’s acceptance of reports filed by individuals with no aim except to silence and “chain” freedom of expression. They also criticised the state’s lax stance against similar cases.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss Saber’s case. It claimed that this is the harshest sentence handed to a writer in the past 20 years.
Saber is the Director of the Land Centre for Human Rights, which provides human rights assistance to farmers. The speakers in the Wednesday meeting suggested that the testimonies against the writer are a result of personal feuds between Saber and police and Ministry of Endowments representatives because of Saber’s work defending farmers’ rights.