Egypt sentences atheist college student to three years in prison
An Egyptian college student was sentenced to three years in prison for expressing his atheist beliefs after insulting Islam on his Facebook page.
Although the Constitution of Egypt guarantees free speech and freedom of religion, it also limits that freedom to the nationally approved Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Offensive statements against those religions are not tolerated. Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna is an Egyptian atheist student whose situation is an example of this narrow interpretation.
An example of the level of the atheist student’s blasphemy on his Facebook page included an image of the Quran side by side with a woman and the question, “It’s ok to burn a woman but it’s not ok to burn a book. Something is wrong with your priorities.” Another post is captioned “Big reward to whoever represents Islam” and shows a group of men pointing at one another saying “This person does not represent Islam.” While outside audiences might find these posts distasteful, they seem undeserving of such harsh punishment.
While al-Banna’s outspoken criticism of Islam had drawn the attention of the local newspaper, the crowning insult of his situation is that he was betrayed by family. After the atheist college student posted a couple of satirical cartoons, some of them arranged to meet him at a coffee shop in November to discuss his ideas. Instead of a conversation, al-Banna found police waiting to put him in handcuffs. His father even testified against him in court. After a brief trial, last week he was sentenced to three years in prison. With a modest bail, the atheist student could be free again until March while he appeals the decision.
In a crackdown on atheism, an unprotected religious group, the Egyptian government has been identifying and publicly shutting down those who insult Islam. Another blogger was jailed in 2012 for blasphemous statements; a poet was jailed in 2013 for asking in a short story, “Where is God?”; and a writer is currently on trial for publicly criticizing certain practices during an Islamic holiday. This trend seems to be an effort by the current administration to prove its Islamic loyalty and distance itself from President Morsi, who was run out of office in 2013.