An Egyptian court has sentenced a Facebook user to three years' prison for creating a page on the social networking site to publish opinions thought to be offensive to Islam and the Prophet Mohamed.
Judge Sherif Kamel, head of the Azbakiya Court of First Instance, said Ayman Youssef Mansour created the page “Al-Monadel Mard” on Facebook and used it to express opinions that threaten national unity. Mansour’s opinions were seen by the court as derogatory to Islam.
This is the second court ruling against online content considered by a court to be in "contempt of religion" according to article 98(f) of the Penal Code, amended in 2006.
The article stipulates that: “Whoever exploits religion in order to promote extremist ideologies by word of mouth, in writing or in any other manner, with a view to stirring up sedition, disparaging or holding in contempt any divine religion or its adherents, or endangering national unity, shall be punished with imprisonment for between six months and five years or a fine of at least LE500.”
Egypt's first case of online “contempt of religion" concerned the blogger Abdel Kareem Amer, arrested in 2006 on charges of insulting Islam and then-President Hosni Mubarak on his blog. He was sentenced to four years in prison and expelled from university.
Local and international human rights watchdogs have criticized the criminalization of contempt of religion, saying that the language used to describe such crimes is vague, with imprecise terms such as “extremist ideologies,” “sedition” and “national unity.” Activists say the article is being used by the government to target political dissidents and suppress freedoms of belief and opinion.
In August scores of complaints were sent to the Ministry of Interior accusing the Facebook page in question of being offensive to Islam.
The Department for Combating Electronic Crimes at the Ministry of Interior identified the location in which Mansour wrote the comments. He was arrested and the prosecutors charged him with insulting Islam and inciting sedition.
The court said that it reached the conclusion that “the accused person [Mansour] deliberately insulted Islam and mocked the religion. His phrases were offensive to Islam, the Quran and the prophet.”
Judge Kamel said that the case was brought to court by the prosecution office. He added that the prosecutors were sure that this was the accused’s Facebook account, and that Mansour admitted that making the statements.