(New York) – Amnesty International said today that the sentencing of an Egyptian activist to three years in prison for “defamation of religion” is an “outrageous” assault on freedom of expression. The human rights organization considers Alber Saber Ayad to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
The court in Cairo found Saber Ayad, 27, a computer science graduate and activist, guilty of uploading and sharing material on the internet that criticized religion.
Saber Ayad is expected to be released on a bail of $160 on Thursday, pending his appeal.
“This is an outrageous verdict and sentence for a person whose only ‘crime’ was to post his opinions online,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“This conviction will ruin his life, whether he serves the sentence or not. The court should have thrown the case out on the first day.”
Saber Ayad was arrested on September 13 after angry groups of men surrounded his house and called for his death, accusing him of heresy, atheism and promoting Innocence of Muslims – a short film regarded by many to be offensive, as it portrays the Prophet Mohammad and Islam in a negative light.
Police waited a full day to respond to a distress call from Saber Ayad’s mother. When they arrived, they arrested Saber Ayad, confiscating his personal computer and CDs.
Saber Ayad’s lawyer told Amnesty International that his client’s trial was marred by the judge’s refusal to allow the defense to call key witnesses – including the arresting and investigating officers, and the individuals who filed the complaints against Saber Ayad.
While Saber Ayad was being held at Cairo’s El Marg Police Station, a police officer reportedly prompted other detainees to attack him. During his trial, Saber Ayad was held in poor conditions in Tora Prison – his cell was next to a sewer and lacked light or clean water until human rights organizations stepped in and filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor on his behalf.
Saber Ayad’s mother told Amnesty International:
“This is pure injustice … I can’t believe during the investigations the boy was asked about his religion and how he practices it, this is none of their business, it’s been three months and I can’t eat or sleep because I can only see him 10 minutes per week. I am calling for Alber to be released, he is just someone who says what he believes, and on the other hand [for the authorities to] try to catch the people who are really inciting violence.”
Amnesty International has submitted the case to United Nations human rights mechanisms.
The verdict comes just days before Egyptians vote on a new constitution that, if passed, will ban criticism of religion as well as individual people – opening the door to many more cases like this one.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.