Egypt Pursues Blasphemy Cases as Morsi Defends Ban at UN

Article excerpt

An Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence today for an Egyptian Christian charged with insulting Islam and the president, just a day after the opening hearing in the trial of another Egyptian man accused of insulting the religion.

An Egyptian rights group also announced today that it would ask Egypts highest appeals court to consider the case of an Egyptian Shia man convicted of desecrating a mosque. And, in a rare case, prosecutors this week brought charges of defaming Christianity against a Muslim who ripped a Bible.

The flurry of developments in blasphemy-related cases comes in the wake of the uproar, in Egypt and across the Muslim world, over an American-made anti-Islam YouTube clip. The protests and anger over the video have strengthened the push for an anti-blasphemy clause in Egypts new constitution. Rights activists say such a constitutional clause, like Egypts current laws criminalizing insults to religion, limit freedom of expression and are often used to target minorities and those with unpopular views.

At a speech at the United Nations Wednesday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was unequivocal about Egypts position on banning insults to religion. Egypt respects freedom of expression, he said, but not a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture.

Accused by mob

Alber Saber, whose case began yesterday, was arrested during the week of protests against the American film. After an angry mob gathered outside his house, accusing him of burning the Quran and insulting Islam, he called police, says his lawyer, Ahmed Ezzat. Instead of confronting the mob, they arrested Mr. Saber. The prosecutor who conducted the investigation repeatedly asked Saber about his religious beliefs, and played a video found on a CD in Sabers home in which Saber, whose family is Christian, questions the meaning of religion.

Initial reports said Saber had posted the Innocence of Muslims YouTube clip on his Facebook page, but Mr. Ezzat says those reports were false. While he was in jail, police incited other prisoners to attack Saber by telling them he was connected to the Innocence of Muslims film, says Ezzat.

The Christian man whose conviction was upheld today was sentenced to six years in prison for posting pictures on Facebook that were deemed offensive to Islam. …

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