“No person should be prosecuted for showing disdain or contempt for religion… even when they are considered offensive or insulting,” said international human rights watch Amnesty International ahead of an appeal hearing for Karam Saber on Thursday.
The author and human rights activist had a five year sentence for contempt of religion upheld on 11 March by the Beba Misdemeanour Court in Beni Sueif relating to his 2010 collection of short stories entitled “Where is God?”.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) added its voice to the calls for the Egyptian authorities to “stop prosecuting writers and repeal laws violating freedom of expression, including those banning ‘contempt of religion’”.
“If imprisoned, Karam Saber would be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Amnesty, adding that the group would call for his release if the sentence is implemented.
The advocacy groups called on the Egyptian authorities to “uphold its international obligations to protect freedom of expression”, pointing out that the constitution, which was passed by referendum in January, “prohibits custodial sentences for publishing offences not connected with incitement to violence and discrimination or defamation”.
Saber is the director of the Land Centre for Human Rights, which provides human rights assistance to farmers.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for HRW said: “Rather than prosecuting Karam Saber for giving voice to poor farmers, authorities should bring Egypt’s laws into harmony with its new constitution and international obligations.”
Saber’s 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.
One of Saber’s lawyers said in March that the court disregarded the defence and evidence submitted by the defence team.
Saber has also appealed to the administrative court, claiming that the charges are not in line with the constitution.
Earlier this week a court in Upper Egypt began the trial of Kirollos Shawki, a Coptic Christian who was detained after police received complaints the he “liked” a social media page entitled “Knights of Christ”. He is also facing the charge of contempt of religion.
Stork said that despite the Egyptian authorities “claim blasphemy laws maintain social peace, they often have the opposite effect,” adding: “Prosecuting people for beliefs peacefully expressed validates, rather than combats, intolerance.”