The continued trying if citizens who express their opinions regarding religious matters is a consecration of the “huge” restrictions imposed against freedom of expression in Egypt, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said on Monday.
AFTE released a statement condemning the court verdict served to Christian citizen Fouad Dawoud after charging him with contempt of the Islamic religion. The Edfu Misdemeanour Court in Aswan sentenced Dawoud to a year in prison and an EGP 2,000 bail on Saturday.
Mohamed Nuby, Dawoud’s lawyer, said he would appeal the verdict on Tuesday. He added that Dawoud’s family is likely to pay the bail to have him released from custody. Dawoud spent over three and a half months in preventative detention.
Nuby stated that during investigations, Dawoud admitted having insulted Islam’s prophet Muhammad through a Facebook post he shared in June. Nuby said the defendant later removed the post and issued a written apology for posting it.
“There is no physical evidence against him since the post was removed,” Nuby said, adding that he would base his appeal on that fact.
Dawoud’s work colleague reported him to the police for “exploiting the Islamic religion to market extremist thoughts intended to spark strife and contempt for Islam”, according to AFTE’s statement.
Disagreements then surfaced in Dawoud’s hometown in Khoor Rizk, where security forces reportedly broke into his house and arrested his siblings to pressure him to turn himself in, according to a statement released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) on 9 September. Dawoud turned himself in on 12 June.
The next day, EIPR reported, two houses belonging to Dawoud’s siblings were torched, leaving damages behind. Reconciliation meetings were held to resolve the conflict, after which Dawoud’s siblings were called on to temporarily leave their village, where the houses were torched, until things calm down.
AFTE called for all charges against Dawoud to be dropped along with the verdict issued against him. It also called on the legislative authorities to cancel the articles in the Penal Code which allow this charge to be pressed. Nuby said lawyers tried to deem unconstitutional Article 98 W in the Penal Code, which makes contempt of religion a charge.
“The charge, as mentioned in the law, lacks clear definition,” Nuby said. “The text of article 98 W is full of vague expressions.”
AFTE described the charge of contempt of religion and the verdict Dawoud was served as a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which stresses the right to freedom of expression. AFTE stated that Dawoud’s statements, believed to have insulted Islam, were not coupled with violence or inciting against it.
EIPR tracked down 63 cases of individuals tried for religious defamation while “[outside] Cairo, the rate by which individuals are found guilty is 100%”, according to a report it released on 9 September. The report read that 59% of the defendants are Muslims and 41% are Christians.