Authorities should intervene to stop contempt of religion trials, which “undermine citizenship and guarantees for religious freedoms”, said an Egyptian human rights organisation on Thursday.
In a statement, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) expressed concern on “the growing frequency of trials on charges of religious defamation targeting religions minorities”. The group also expressed concern the trials could extend to those “holding beliefs at odds with the Sunni Muslim majority”.
The statement comes in reaction to a sentence handed down earlier this week to a Luxor Christian school teacher, Demiana Emad Abdel Nour. Nour was sentenced, without possibility of appeal, to six months in jail for contempt of religion and was fined EGP 100,000.
According to the group, it is the third such case this year in Luxor alone. EIPR singled out the Luxor governorate in its statement as a location with a relatively high frequency in such lawsuits.
An officer with the group’s freedom of religion and belief programme, Ishaak Ibrahim, called the situation in Luxor “worrying”.
“It’s got to where filing a police report accusing someone of religious defamation is enough to put them in jail,” he said in the press release, “The security apparatus often arrests the accused without establishing the truth of the complaint or its legal basis.”
Ibrahim added: “These cases are the first true test of the new political leadership’s commitment to the values of citizenship and constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion and belief. It has the authority to pardon persons convicted in these cases.”
EIPR said it had documented 48 defamation cases involving harassment and prosecution from 2011 to the end of 2013, showing an upward trend. In 28 of the cases, defendants were prosecuted in court.
“EIPR urges changes to laws restricting freedoms that violate constitutional rights and international human rights conventions,” read the statement. “It also asks the Ministry of Justice to move the trial of Kirollos Shawqi to the Cairo governorate, while ensuring an environment conducive to a fair trial for all defendants, to uphold their right to a defence.”
Shawqi is currently standing trial in Luxor for allegedly defaming Islam on a Facebook page. His case has been adjourned to 24 June.