Christian Teacher, Others in Egypt Arrested for ‘Insulting Islam’ in Facebook Posts

Ismailia, Egypt. (Creative Commons, Balou46)

A young Christian teacher in northeastern Egypt is facing charges of insulting Islam after he posted comments on Facebook, according to local reports.

Morning Star News http://morningstarnews.org reports Youssef Hany of Ismailia, a city on the Suez Canal 78 miles northeast of Cairo, posted the comments earlier this month in reply to a Muslim who had expressed her opposition to criticisms of Islam by the president of France and other French citizens.

Hany was reportedly arrested on Nov. 11, as was a Muslim woman identified only by her Facebook name, c, for their comments on social media. The next day they were reportedly charged under Article 98(f) of Egypt’s penal code, which outlaws insulting a “heavenly religion,” namely Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Hany and the Muslim woman could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 500 to 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$30 to US$60) under a law that calls for a minimum of six months of prison. They were released on bail on Nov. 14, one of the attorneys volunteering to represent them told news outlet Al-Monitor.

The attorney, Makarios Lahzy, told Al-Monitor that the charges they are facing are unconstitutional. Egypt’s “blasphemy” law against insulting religion has come under fire for violating the country’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and religious freedom. Used almost exclusively against criticisms of Islam, the law is rarely invoked against frequent, public anti-Christian comments.

The law has also been criticized for arbitrary use. Lahzy, director of the Minority and Religious Groups department of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said the law “does not clearly and expressly define contempt of or defamation [of religion] and leaves the notion loose and unreliable.”

After Hany’s comments appeared in a heated exchange on Facebook, other social media users circulated the comments, creating a swirl of opposition leading to a Twitter hashtag calling for him to be tried and sentenced with the maximum punishment as an example to others who might criticize Islam, according to online news outlet Al Wafd News.

Advocacy group Copts-United pointed out a social media post calling for Hany and others to be killed.

“He must be killed,” reads a screenshot of the post. “Someone volunteer, people, we will not continue to debate with a few absent-minded minorities…We will squash them…”

While Hany was arrested for allegedly insulting Islam, those who subsequently insulted Christianity and called for Hany to be killed were not detained, Copts-United noted. The group reported that writer Ernest William commented on the arrest of Hany on his Facebook page, asking if Egypt’s blasphemy law applied only to comments critical of Islam.

“Did the authorities not see the comments transcending the contempt for Christianity to contempt for Christians and the outright call to kill not only Mr. Hany, but the Copts as a minority, as one of them claimed?” William wrote.

After Hany’s post circulated online, an attorney filed a complaint against him and his Facebook page at the district attorney’s office, which also received complaints from other lawyers, leading authorities to investigate and arrest him, according to online news outlet Al Masry Alyoum.

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SOURCE: Assist News Service