Egyptian Authorities Charge Two Minors with ‘Contempt of Religion’
Freedom House condemns the decision by Egyptian authorities to detain two minors on blasphemy charges and calls for their immediate release. The Egyptian government must respect the right to freedom of religion and free expression.
Nine-year-old Mina Nady Farag and 10-year-old Nabil Nagy Rizk were detained in Bani Suef after a man alleged he saw the two ‘pee on pages of the Quran’ and throw those pages next to a mosque.
National laws against religious “defamation” and blasphemy have been used to repress religious minorities, to restrict the ability of members of the majority religious community to practice their faith in the way they choose, and even to settle personal grudges. Egypt and Pakistan are among those countries witnessing alarming signs of a crackdown on free expression through the misuse of blasphemy laws, which have led to increased detention and fatal violence. Eleven-year-old Pakistani girl Rimsha Masih was arrested on blasphemy charges in August 2012 after being accused of ‘burning the pages of the Quran,’ and later freed after it was discovered a local imam framed her by placing the burned pages in her bag. Christian residents in nearby villages were forced to flee the resulting violence, and Rimsha’s family was forced in to hiding after receiving death threats.
Article 8 of Egypt’s draft constitution has been at the center of the debate over religious freedom, as a new clause in the constitution stipulates that while freedom of belief is “absolute,” religious rights “must not be in contradiction with public order.” When blasphemy laws and restrictive religious freedom laws are coupled with ‘hisba’ – a complaint Muslims can lodge against one another for ‘perceived violations against Islam’ – they can lead to a range of abuses. Twenty-five-year-old Albert Saber was arrested on September 13 after being accused of ‘insulting religion’ for posting controversial short film “The Innocence of Muslims” on his Facebook page. The recent outbreak of violence in Muslim-majority countries in response to “Innocence of Muslims” has prompted calls to formally restrict speech that insults or does not “respect” religions and prophets. The same month, a Copt schoolteacher, Bishoy Kamel, was sentenced to six months in prison after posting cartoons ‘defamatory to Islam and the Prophet Muhammed’ on Facebook, and for ‘insulting’ President Mohamed Morsi and his family.
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