The Beba Misdemeanour Court in Beni Sueif upheld on Tuesday a court verdict handing author Karam Saber five years in prison for insulting religion.
Saber is accused of contempt of religion for a book he wrote in 2010 entitled “Where is Allah”. He received his jail sentence in June 2013 in absentia; the author challenged the verdict.
Hamdy Al-Assiuti, one of the members of Saber’s defence team, said the court disregarded the defence and evidence submitted by Saber’s lawyers. He added that the verdict would be appealed within ten days.
Saber is accused of promoting infidelity, inciting polytheism and insulting God. His defence team argued that the court trying Saber lacks the proper jurisdiction to do so. They also argued that the investigation was lacking and that the charge was fabricated. They suggested 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.
Saber is the director of the Land Centre for Human Rights, which provides human rights assistance to farmers.
Al-Assiuti criticised the charge of contempt of religion, describing it as “outdated”.
“The legislator should take more positive steps against the charge of contempt of religion,” Al-Assiuti said. He added that such a charge violates certain articles in the newly-passed constitution.
Article 64 of the text states that freedom of belief is “absolute”; it gives followers of Abrahamic religions the right to practice their religious rituals and build houses of worship, leaving the organisation of this right up to the laws.
“In practice, this doesn’t apply,” Al-Assiuti said. He accused the public prosecution of disregarding the freedom of belief and freedom of expression.
The book “Where is Allah” is a collection of short stories 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 the Beni Suef 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; both of which 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.
Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer on Saber’s defence team and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, claimed that the verdict is “the harshest sentence handed to [a writer] in the past 20 years”.