CAIRO: The continuing detention of nine men who are being held for their religious beliefs demonstrates that the government is not sincere in its pledges to restrict emergency law powers, an NGO said Friday.
Members of state security forces arrested nine followers of the Ahmadeyya religious movement on March 15, 2010. Four others were detained as part of the arrest campaign but subsequently released.
The state security prosecution office will resume interrogation with one of the detainees tomorrow.
The Ahmadeyya movement was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 and describes itself as an international revival movement within Islam. The Ahmadeyya community regards Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet, and as a result of this and other key ideological differences with mainstream Islam, some Muslims regard the movement as heretical.
EIPR says in its statement that the group of nine arrested men was held at various state security facilities for over six weeks before being brought before a judge and without any charges being leveled against them.
They were eventually brought before a supreme state security prosecution office at the end of April and charged with contempt for Islam. The men are currently being held in Tora Prison.
The wife of one of the detainees was arrested on May 12 and charged with the same offence. She was released pending the continuation of investigations with her, which will resume on May 16.
“The use of the emergency law to detain citizens because of their religious affiliation blatantly contradicts government claims that the infamous law is used solely in crimes involving terrorism or drug trafficking,” Adel Ramadan, a legal officer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) who are representing the men, said in a statement released Friday.
“The government must immediately stop punishing people because they hold certain religious beliefs. The Public Prosecutor should issue clear directives to all prosecutors banning the use of the notorious charge of ‘contempt of religions’ to interrogate individuals about their religious beliefs. This is a flagrant violation of their right to freedom of religion and belief,” Ramadan continued.
Members of minority religious sects such as Shias and Quranists have previously been arrested and detained because of their religious belief. EIPR’s researcher on freedom of religion and belief describes the arrest of the Ahmadiyya Muslims as, “only the latest instance of the security apparatus’s abuse of the shameful, vague and unconstitutional provision on ‘contempt of religions.’”
“These arbitrary campaigns will not stop as long as this statute remains in the Penal Code, officials responsible for violations of the freedom of religion and belief are not held to account and, of course, as long as the state of emergency continues, which permits further unchecked abuses.”