A group of human rights organisations condemned on Monday the jail sentence served to Coptic lawyer Romani Murad Saad.
The organisations outlined their utter refusal of such lawsuits which “target the freedom of opinion and expression” in a joint statement released on Monday.
Saad was sentenced in absentia to a year in prison for purposeful contempt of the Islamic religion on Saturday. He was also appointed an EGP 500 bail and fined EGP 10,000 as temporary compensation for the civil prosecutors who filed the lawsuit against him.
The lawyer’s charges date back to July 2012, when a group of Islamist lawyers filed a report accusing him of insulting the Islamic religion during a discussion with them at the library of the Lawyers’ Syndicate in Assiut.
The organisations claimed in their statement that Saad’s accusations came as a result of a heated online discussion with him and the plaintiffs over the second round of the presidential elections. They added that the investigations could not verify the accusations against Saad.
The rights groups condemned the investigative authorities’ pattern of referring citizens to trial for such accusations without solid evidence, adding that such behaviour makes the plaintiffs of such lawsuits more likely to attempt to silence those with different opinions.
The human rights organisations also voiced their concern about the growing number of “contempt of religion” lawsuits which Copts face.
“Such lawsuits have become a weapon of sectarian discrimination and oppression of religious minorities,” the statement read. “They are also used to suppress expressing one’s beliefs.”
The organisations held the Egyptian authorities responsible for such “violations” for ignoring the human rights organisations’ continuous demands to amend articles 98, 160 and 161 of the Penal Code which govern these type of crimes in a manner which directly antagonises the freedom of expressing one’s beliefs.
The joint statement was signed by 15 human rights organisations. They include: the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).
A report published by ANHRI in May ranked Egypt third among countries with the highest percentage of violations of freedom of expression in the Arab World in 2012. Accusations of blasphemy and insulting President Mohamed Morsi were deemed the most common violations of freedom of expression in Egypt, according to the report.