Court sentence in Egypt sends wrong signal on freedom of expression
New York City – Yesterday, an Egyptian court sentenced a Christian to six years of prison for disrespecting Prophet Muhamed and for insulting Egyptian President Morsi and a plaintiff lawyer on social networking sites. According to Egyptian news reports, the man in question, Bishoy Kamel, was arrested and detained by authorities in late July for posting cartoons on the web that insulted Islam. He has refuted charges against him, claiming that his account had been hacked. Human Rights First urges U.S. government officials to condemn this most recent example of abusive blasphemy laws. “This sentence could not come at a worse time, where anger over a video that mocks Islam has caused bloodshed and sparked violent protests across twenty countries,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “Now is the time for the Egyptians to step up to the historical and colossal task of strengthening democracy and the rule of law – not to restrict rights. The sentencing of this man sends a wrong and worrying signal by the Court that freedom of expression is further eroding in Egypt.” Governments such as Egypt and Tunisia, are currently proposing to introduce and strengthen blasphemy laws in the process of re-writing their constitutions and revising their national laws. However, blasphemy laws are inconsistent with international human rights standards, which are designed to protect individuals, not abstract ideas or religions. Far from protecting religion, they actually empower extremists and facilitate the persecution of religious minorities. Human Rights First calls on blasphemy laws to be removed from criminal law. “The concept of blasphemy should be narrowly defined and interpreted to avoid abuses against religious minorities. Also, victims of these laws must benefit from adequate legal protection if they are brought to trial,” concluded Fiss. For more information on global blasphemy laws, see Human Rights First’s report Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Criminalization of Defamation of Religions, which documents over 100 blasphemy cases in 18 countries.