Egyptian human rights groups on Tuesday issued a statement denouncing a recent court verdict against Coptic Christian lawyer Romani Mourad.
Mourad was sentenced in absentia by a misdemeanour court in Assiut on Saturday to one year in prison and a fine of LE10,000 ($1,430) for insulting and mocking God and the Quran.
In July 2012, a number of the Islamist lawyers filed a complaint accusing Mourad of insulting the Islamic religion during a discussion that took place at Assiut’s lawyers syndicate.
The statement claims that a dispute between Mourad and an Islamist lawyer started in May following comments Mourad made on the Facebook page of Assiut’s Youth Lawyers Union during the presidential elections runoffs, condemning the results of the first round of elections.
“We denounce these type of cases that target freedom of opinion and expression,” read the statement, which also stated that often in such cases citizens are referred to trial without concrete evidence.
The statement went on to slam the state’s neglect of a demand by rights groups that the law governing such cases be amended, in particular Articles 98, 160 and 161 of the penal code.
Article 98 of Egypt's penal code states that anyone convicted of offending religion in any form can face up to six years in prison and be fined up to LE500 ($70).
The statement further raised concerns regarding the rise in numbers of cases of ‘insulting religion’ against Copts, describing such cases as a tool for “sectarian discrimination against and oppression of religious minorities.”
In July 2012, Bishoy Kamel, a Coptic Christian school teacher from Sohag, was sentenced to six years in prison for posting cartoons deemed defamatory to Islam and the prophet Mohammed on Facebook, as well as for insulting President Mohamed Morsi and his family.
In September of last year, 25-year-old Albert Saber, also Coptic Christian, was charged with insulting religion for allegedly posting a controversial anti-Islam short film on his Facebook page, a charge which he denied. In December, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
In another recent case, two Coptic children – ten-year-old Nabil Rizk and nine-year-old Mina Farag – were referred to juvenile detention last October for allegedly tearing up a copy of the Quran. Because of their young ages, however, they were later released pending investigation.
In February, the prosecutor-general ordered the arrest of controversial preacher Ahmed Abdullah Abu Islam on charges of insulting the Christian religion.