Egyptian Man Speaks Out Against Blasphemy Laws

Maikel Nabil Sanad is under investigation for blasphemy. His friend Alber Saber has already been charged and is in jail awaiting a trial. Sanad is bravely speaking out publicly against the barbarism of such laws in a column on the Foreign Policy website.

On October 7, 2012, the office of the Egyptian General Prosecutor decided to start an official investigation accusing me of “blasphemy” — or, as they call it, “insulting Islam.” My crime was expressing my atheist beliefs on my Twitter account. The Egyptian authorities also arrested my friend Alber Saber on similar charges. He remains in jail to this day.

Egypt has signed many international treaties that ensure freedom of expression, but the Egyptian penal code still has approximately 20 laws that make certain opinions a crime.

The specified offenses include criticizing the president, the parliament, the military, or the judiciary. Criticizing a foreign president, such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Bashar Al-Assad, is also a crime, punishable with a three-year term in prison.

And he points out that a conviction is just the beginning. Once in prison, the real punishment begins:

When I learned of the charges against me and Saber, I remembered my friend Kareem Amer, a famous Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007 for insulting both Islam and then-President Mubarak. Kareem suffered a great deal in prison. He was tortured several times, and spent a long time in solitary confinement under horrible conditions.

Sanad has already spent time in prison for the “crime” of insulting the Egyptian military. And here’s how such laws operate:

Ayman’s case was followed in January 2012 by the case of Gamal Abdou Masoud, 17, a Christian from Asyut in Upper Egypt. Gamal was tagged on Facebook in a picture that criticized Islam. Angry mobs surrounded his house because of this picture, burned his house and the houses of other Christians in the village, and forced his family to leave. The police didn’t arrest anyone from the mobs. Instead, Gamal was sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting Islam.”

And the bottom line:

Religions are just collections of beliefs which can’t be proved. I still can’t imagine that in the twenty-first century there are people going to prison because they don’t believe that someone walked on water, a virgin gave birth to a child, or a man flew to heaven on a donkey. Tolerating this new Inquisition moves our world back to the Middle Ages, and this could have devastating consequences for our lives.

This is barbarism, pure and simple. I’m going to be writing a column for Secular World magazine starting with the next issue about free speech issues around the world. We need to take a stand on this principle. As Salman Rushdie says, “Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”

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