Correction: Egyptian court upholds 5-year sentence for author in contempt of religion case

AP, Ahram Online, Friday 6 Jun 2014

Al-Azhar and the Beni Suef church both condemn the book for which author and human rights activist Karam Saber faces jail

Karam Saber
Karam Saber

An appeals court in Beni Suef, south of Cairo, has upheld a five-year sentence for Karam Saber, a Muslim author convicted on charges of contempt of religion.

Saber was tried and sentenced in absentia last year over his 2010 novel Where is God. After the initial sentencing, he turned himself in and received the same sentence in a retrial, in accordance with Egyptian law.

He then appealed and was freed on bail pending Thursday's decision.

In an interview with Ahram Online last October, Saber -- who is also the director of the Land Centre for Human Rights, focused on farmers' rights -- said he was "shocked" to hear that he'd been sentenced to five years.

Saber does not believe courts are the place to host such debates. "This is something that literary critic should do. Critics can judge the book because it's a work of fiction and not of reality; courts cannot interfere in such a matter," he said.

According to a statement released by a coalition of Egyptian human rights organisations shortly after Saber was sentenced, the prosecutors undertaking the investigation consulted the church in Beni Suef, as well as Al-Azhar, to seek out their opinions as to whether the accusations were correct.

The church told the prosecution that the content of Saber's literary work contradicted divine religions, ridiculed the divine, and invented stories that stray from refined and sophisticated literature.

Al-Azhar concurred with the church, stating that the work destroys intellectual values and tears apart the fabric of Egyptian society.

Contempt of religion charges were widely used during the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak as a pretext to crack down on political activists. However, occurrences of the charge significantly rose under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and that of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was removed from power last July.

A report issued last September by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) revealed that a total of 63 citizens – both Muslims and Christians – were charged with insulting religion in the period between the January 2011 revolution and the end of 2012.

According to Article 98 of Egypt's penal code, anyone convicted of contempt of religion in any form can face up to six years in prison.

Correction: AP mistakenly identified Karam Saber as a Coptic Christian

Short link: