COPTIC CHRISTIANS SENT TO PRISON

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The Australian Coptic Movement Association (ACM) is deeply concerned that Coptic Christians have been charged and, in some instances, imprisoned for violating Egypt’s blasphemy laws.

The continued existence of these blasphemy laws in the post Morsi era is regrettable for the following reasons. First, the substance of these laws, which criminalises speech critical of religion, is inconsistent with the fundamental right of freedom of expression which is the bedrock of a pluralistic and civilian democracy that Egyptians demanded in Tahrir Square. Secondly, these laws have the potential to be applied as a tool to intimidate, oppress and marginalise Coptic Christians and liberal Muslims.

The cases below are illustrative of an alarming phenomenon of regressive Islamic extremists falsely accusing Copts of insulting Islam and courts handing down convictions in the absence of cogent and reliable evidence to support such rulings.

Ms Demiana Emad – 23 Year old Coptic Woman, Luxor.

Demiana Emad is a 23-year-old Coptic Christian social studies teacher. She was arrested on 9 May 2013 after the head of the parents’ association of Sheikh Sultan Primary School in Luxor filed a complaint accusing her of insulting Islam. Demiana was convicted under the blasphemy laws and sentenced to pay an excessive LE100,000 fine. Demiana appealed the severity of this sentence. In June 2014, the appellate court sentenced Demiana to 6 months imprisonment.

The troubling aspect of this case is that there was no credible evidence to support the allegation that Demiana ‘insulted Islam’. Demiana merely presented a comparison between religions in ancient, middle and modern ages in her classes. That a compliant was even filed in these circumstances illustrates the potential for blasphemy laws to be abused. The conviction also demonstrates that the application of these laws can oppress minorities.

Mr Kirollos Shawky – 30 Years, Luxor.

On Friday 30 May 2014 Egyptian prosecutors ordered the detention of Kirollos Shawky over allegations that he insulted Islam. According to the state-owned news agency MENA, Shawky was arrested for allegedly posting pictures insulting Islam on his personal Facebook page. This report incited vigilantes to attack Coptic owned property in the vicinity of Kirollos’ home, thereby fuelling division and sectarianism in a nation where unity is paramount for stability.

Kirollos was sentenced yesterday to 6 years prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion.

There are credible reports which suggest that the only action taken by Kirollos was that he clicked ‘Like’ on a page titled ‘Knights of the Cross’. Of course, no logical or rational person would deduce or infer from this act that Kirollos was engaging in conduct that insulted Islam. It is deeply disconcerting that such an act could form the foundation for a complaint that a person has violated Egypt’s blasphemy laws and further depicts the potential for these laws to stifle freedom of expression.

Mr Mohamad Higazy (Bishoy Armia) – 32 Years, Al Minya.

The latest case involves a convert to Christianity, Mohamad Higazy. Mohamad’s new name is Bishoy Armia. However, previous courts refused to acknowledge his conversion and name change.

On 23 June 2014 a court in Al Minya sentenced the journalist Bishoy Armia to five years in prison and a fine of LE500 fine for inciting sectarian strife, Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website reported on Monday. Egyptian newspapers said the defendant was also sentenced for “depicting Christians as suffering from sectarian oppression” and reporting the “misinformation” to a US-based television channel called The Road.

The implications of this ruling are stark. Any reporting of violence, persecution or discrimination against Christians has the potential to be construed as ‘depicting Christians as suffering from sectarian oppression’ or inciting sectarian strife. This case sends an ominous warning to any person, whether Christian or liberal Muslims, that the right to express discontent with injustice, whether overt or subtle, can be the subject of criminal sanctions.

The above cases should not have been brought to the courts in the first place. We acknowledge that Demiana’s case had commenced during the period of Muslim Brotherhood rule. We are extremely concerned regarding the welfare of Demiana, Kirollos and Mohamad (Bishoy) and their families. We are monitoring developments closely.

The Australian Coptic Movement Association

 

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