Blasphemy charges brought against Kerolos Shouky Attallah, 29, for ‘liking’ a Facebook page has prompted human rights activists to question the government’s commitment to a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of belief and thought.
The Facebook page is in Arabic, run by anonymous converts from Islam. Faced with threats, Attallah ‘unliked’ the page, but the next day villagers attacked his house. Police arrived: they arrested Attallah and charged him under Egypt’s version of a blasphemy law – showing ‘disdain’ for a heavenly religion. All those who attacked Attallah’s house were released without charge.
“According to the constitution, Kerolos should not be in jail, because it allows freedom of speech and expression, but the judges are not using the new constitution and are still working with the old law,” a human rights activist said. “They are basically ignoring the new constitution.”
Under the Egyptian penal code, violation of Article 98F is punishable by “detention for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years, or paying a fine of not less than 500 pounds and not exceeding 1,000 pounds.” (1,000 Egyptian pounds equals about £85.)
A violation of the article is described as an act that advocates or spreads “extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division,” or an act that shows disdain or contempt for “any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto.” Using religion in a way that harms “national unity or social peace” is also a violation.
On 24 June he was sentenced to six years in prison.
Last June, Demyana Abd Al-Nour, an elementary school teacher from Sheikh Sultan Primary School in the village of Al-Edisat, was fined approximately £8,500 after being accused of committing blasphemy. Her appeal was heard on 15 June, when to the dismay of her family and the bafflement of human rights activists, she was sentenced to six month imprisonment. She is now likely to seek asylum in France, and her family fear they may never see her again.
On 17 June Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the new Egyptian President about freedom of religion. William Hague replied “The Government has been clear throughout recent events in Egypt, that the freedom of religious belief needs to be protected and that the ability to worship in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. I have not yet met President el-Sisi, but will look to work with him and the Egyptian Government to implement the rights contained in Egypt’s constitution, which includes protections for freedom of religious belief.”