CHRISTIAN CHARGED WITH “BLASPHEMY” IN EGYPT
A young Christian man has been charged under Egypt’s “blasphemy” law for “liking” a Facebook page that local Muslims deemed offensive to Islam. The case prompted attacks by Islamists on Christian property.
Kerolos Shouky Attallah (29) of El-Mahameed village near Luxor is scheduled to appear in court on 24 June on a charge of showing disdain or contempt for a heavenly religion, which carries a penalty of between six months and five years in prison, or a fine.
Kerolos was accused after clicking the “like” button on a Facebook page run by a group of converts from Islam to Christianity, the Knights of the Cross. The page features posts about Christian and Islamic teachings, and is intended to encourage Arabic-speaking converts from Islam in their faith. Kerolos did not add any content to the page or interact with posts by others.
The content is accessible to anyone, and Muslim villagers in El-Mahameed took offence at a cartoon that was posted on the page. Kerolos did not “like” this particular post, but on 28 May, Muslims printed and distributed leaflets demanding that the Christian be kicked out of the village.
Kerolos “unliked” the Knights of the Cross page, but this did not prevent villagers from attacking his home the following day. Moderate Muslims in El-Mahameed prevented the mob from attacking other Christian homes.
Police were called to the scene and arrested Kerolos, who was subsequently charged. No charges were brought against the Muslim villagers who attacked his home.
Kerolos was due to appear in court on 2 June, and ahead of his hearing that day, Islamists launched an attack on El-Mahameed, torching a number of Christian-owned shops.
The case was postponed after Islamists tried to dominate the court, bringing around 20 lawyers to support the blasphemy claims. Kerolos is being held in detention.
Safwat Samaan, chairman of Luxor-based human rights group Nation Without Borders, toldMorning Star News that judges are “ignoring the new constitution”, which was passed in January. He said:
According to the constitution, Kerolos should not be in jail, because it allows freedom of speech and expression, but the judges are not using the new constitution and are still working with the old law.
Egypt’s blasphemy law has been used disproportionately against the country’s Christian minority. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights found that 41% of blasphemy cases filed between 25 January 2011 – the date of the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak – and 31 December 2012 were against Christians, who comprise only around ten per cent of the population.
Christians are hopeful that the election last month of former military chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as the country’s new president will result in improvements for their community. The retired field marshal is extremely popular with Christians and other Egyptians who opposed the Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi that he removed. They see him as a strong leader who will protect them from Islamist violence and uphold their rights.