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Alber Saber detained for political, not religious reasons: Mother

Mother, lawyer of detained activist Alber Saber - charged with defaming religion - speak to Ahram Online about Saber's 'inhumane' prison conditions

Randa Ali , Tuesday 30 Oct 2012
Alber Saber
Alber Saber behind bars and his mother Kariman during his trial on 26 September(Photo Reuters)
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In a small cell in Torah prison with barely any light, 27-year-old Alber Saber, accompanied by cockroaches, is awaiting his trial, scheduled for 14 November, says his lawyer, Ahmed Ezzat, describing his defendant's prison conditions as "inhumane."

Saber, an Egyptian Copt, was arrested at dawn on 13 September as a mob of young people from his neighbourhood surrounded his family's residence in El-Marg chanting for his death, accusing him of sharing the controversial US-made film 'The Innocence of Muslims' and promoting atheism on social-networking websites.

Ezzat, director of the legal unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, told Ahram Online that a request had been sent more than once to have Saber released, given that he had not yet been sentenced. No response, however, was given.

"Why is Alber being treated differently than Abu Islam, who is facing the same charges? Why is Abu Islam on trial without detention while Alber is [in detention]?" protested Ezzat.

Abu Islam Abdullah, a radical Islamist preacher and owner of the Umma and Mariya satellite television channels, has been charged with defaming Christianity after burning copies of the New Testament on 11 September during a protest against the anti-Islam film outside the US embassy in Cairo.

Unlike Saber, Abdullah is not being held in police custody while on trial.

According to article 98 of Egypt's penal code, Saber could face up to six years in prison in addition to a fine of LE500 if proven guilty of offending religion in any form.

"Articles concerning insulting religions need to be eliminated; an accusation against freedom of speech is a violation of freedom that will take us decades backward," said Ezzat.

Ezzat added that Saber had long been interested in comparative religion, "however, his views were not appealing to some."

"Alber is accused of sharing the anti-Islam film, which he denied, and about his views regarding religions," Ezzat told Ahram Online.

According to his lawyer, Saber's health is deteriorating and he is suffering from insomnia. He has also reportedly been assaulted by security guards and cellmates.

Saber's mother, Kariman, strongly believes that the charges against her son for insulting religion are nothing but a "façade," and that the real reason is his political activism.

"When I called the police to protect me [on the night of Saber's arrest], they came to arrest my son and told me they were unable to protect me," she told Ahram Online.

Kariman believes that the charges have nothing to do with offending religion, and that "something has been set up for Alber."

"The masses that surrounded our house were not religious people; they seemed like drug addicts. None of them know anything about religion or were ever seen inside a mosque," she added.

This was not the first time security forces have looked for Alber, his mother asserted.

"On the eve of the revolution's anniversary [24 January 2012], state security broke into our house at dawn and asked for Alber, who was not at home at the time," his mother recounted.

Kariman claims that she was threatened to send them her son or face the consequences.

Saber's mother told Ahram Online that her son had been a campaigner for prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, and had been helping the latter collect citizens' signatures during the Mubarak era. Her son had also been in touch with controversial figure Omar Afifi, Kariman said.

She further complained of deliberate arbitrariness imposed on her and her son, who has not received all the food and letters she has sent while other inmates are allowed to have television sets in their cells.

"My visit to him is only ten minutes. I write him to tell him not to worry about us, that life is good and we're all fine, but security guards tell me letters are prohibited," she asserted.

Kariman lamented the alleged mistreatment imposed on her son, saying that he had been deprived even of pen and paper, which for him, she said, is like "slow death."

"I couldn't recognise him when I first saw him. Can you imagine not recognising your own son?" she asked.

Charges of insulting religions have long targeted political activists, ever during the Mubarak period. However, similar cases have continued to appear under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

Earlier in September, a Coptic school teacher, Bishoy Kamel, was sentenced to six years in prison for posting cartoons online deemed defamatory to Islam and Prophet Mohammed, and for insulting President Morsi and his family.  

Another notable case was the referral of two Coptic children – ten-year-old Nabil Rizk and nine-year-old Mina Farag – to juvenile detention for allegedly tearing up a copy of the Quran. Due to their young ages, however, they were later released pending investigation.

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