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Welcome to Morsi's Egypt: Christian Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison for 'Insulting Religion


Alber Saber (Source: Daily News Egypt)

Following the terror attack on our U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that left four brave Americans -- including a U.S. ambassador, civil servant and two Navy SEALs -- dead, Islamists across the Middle East shouted in defiance at their alleged catalyst: a low-budget YouTube video critical of Islam. While the amateur movie was certainly not the real motivation for the onslaught, Islamists used it as a springboard for furthering their goals of enacting Islamic blasphemy laws. In other words, if one slanders Islam -- specifically the Prophet Muhammad -- Islamists believe perpetrators should suffer penal consequences.

Case in point: On Thursday an Egyptian court sentenced Alber Saber to three years in prison for insulting Islam. These types of blasphemy prosecution cases have been on the rise since Hosni Mubarak's ouster and are only likely to intensify if the country's draft constitution is approved.

Saber, who himself is Christian, was reportedly convicted for a video he produced in which he was criticized of organized religion, likely Islam. Human rights advocates are up in arms, but in a country where the a self-proclaimed dictator has vowed to frame the country's constitution around shariah law, the cries of those who oppose this kind of barbarism will likely go unaddressed.

"It's a heavy sentence, and any independent court looking into the case would release him because there are huge procedural mistakes … never mind that this is actually a crime that shouldn't be on the books to begin with," said Amr Gharbeia, civil liberties director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The Christian Science monitor reports that that blasphemy laws in Egypt were not part of the previous constitution but are indeed included in the country's new charter, which goes to vote on Saturday. The charter includes a clause specifically prohibits slandering "prophets." Such a clause only makes overturning convictions all the more difficult on the grounds of their constitutionality. The Monitor provides additional information on Saber's case:

In a somewhat unusual step, the judge ruled that Saber could be released on bail today until his appeal is heard. But though his lawyers paid the bail, about $162, police returned him to prison instead of releasing him. Lawyer Ahmed Ezzat says he will attempt to secure Saber's release tomorrow. [...]

According to his lawyer and family, his mother called police when an angry mob gathered outside his home in a working-class area on the outskirts of Cairo and accused him of burning the Quran and insulting Islam. The crowd threatened to kill him and burn down his house, they said.

When the police arrived, they arrested Saber instead of protecting him from the mob. Police searched his home without a warrant, and found a video in which he criticizes organized religion. The prosecutor used this as evidence to charge him with insulting religion under a vague clause in Egypt's penal code that criminalizes the denigration of religion. Mr. Ezzat says the prosecutor incited other prisoners to beat Saber after he was imprisoned by telling his cellmates that Saber was connected to the anti-Islam film.

Gharbeia maintains that the case against Saber should have been thrown out since the evidence was obtained without a warrant, but his lawyers are also challenging the ambiguity of these new blasphemy laws. Due to their vagueness, interpretation of what constitutes blasphemy and often falls in the hands of those with an agenda and is subject to gross abuse in its use against minorities.

Welcome to Muhammad Morsi's new "democratic" Egypt.

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