Human Rights

Charges filed against Egyptian atheist Sherif Gaber

Salafi lawyer Haitham Hashim Saad

Salafi lawyer Haitham Hashim Saad

Egyptian religious conservative Al-Nour party (Party of light) has filed a blasphemy claim against atheist, free-thinker and activist Sherif Gaber. The salafi Al-Nour party has allied with the military dictatorship of Sisi and campaigned for him in the recent 2018 elections. Al-Nour’s lawyer Haitham Hashim Saad has filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, accusing Sherif Gaber of ‘assaulting the Islamic religion and shariah’ – ‘denying the definite truth of religion and ridiculing the Prophet’. Saad stressed that Gaber was disturbing the public peace and provoking strife among society and should be charged under article 176 of the Penal code.

Article 176 of Egypt’s Penal Code penalizes the incitement of hatred of hatred of a sect or people and has been used repeatedly to suppress religious dissent. Free-thinkers , political dissidents and religious minorities have been charged under the de-facto blasphemy statute. Baseem Youssef, an Egyptian comedian launched a popular satirical news show El-Bernameg in 2011 which was also charged for insulting Islam and disrupting public order.

After the 2011 Arab Spring protests and removal of Hosni Mubarak there were high hopes on a relaxation of restrictions on free speech. Unfortunately with the subsequent Muslim Brotherhood government and current military dictatorship the persecution of free-thinkers has intensified.  There is consideration by lawmakers to expand beyond the blasphemy laws to outlaw atheism itself.

Amro Hamroush, head of Egypt’s Parliament’s committee on religion wrote that:

“[Atheism] must be criminalized and categorized as contempt of religion because atheists have no doctrine and try to insult the Abrahamic religions”. 

In Islamic jurisprudence the penalty for leaving Islam – apostasy is death. Over 13 Muslim countries have the death penalty while most others include criminal sanctions.
The mufti of Al-Azhar university has previously expressed support for criminal sanction against apostasy state that it was “a rebellion both against religion and society” and further stated that there is unanimous consensus among Islamic scholars that apostasy is a crime which is punishable by death.

“What happened to me sparked a battle for freedom of thought. I can’t run away now, I prefer to fight for my rights from within the battle itself, and not on the outskirts in some foreign land.” – Sherif Gaber
 Sherif Gaber was previously arrested in 2013 while still in college for charges of contempt of religion and incitement. His professors attacked him due to his perceived views and additionally assigned failing grades. Out on bail, in 2015 Sherif was sentenced to imprisonment for one year. Sherif has been in hiding in Egypt since the judgement but has been continuing his work.

Sherif is a well-known YouTuber and uses satire in most his videos to get point of view across. His videos have received millions of views and are popular around the world. One of of Gaber’s most popular videos shows him at judgment day, worried about his fate as the angel of death (also played by him) reviews his life’s deeds and is confused by Sherif’s actions during his life.

In a recent interview when asked why he’s chosen to stay in Egypt despite the threat he faces, he stated that:

“What happened to me sparked a battle for freedom of thought. I can’t run away now, I prefer to fight for my rights from within the battle itself, and not on the outskirts in some foreign land.

My goal is to be able to express myself any way I want and help those who desire the same freedom to be able to do so as well, in our own country. I don’t see myself as an activist, I simply want people to listen, and think without fear. I could do it from anywhere else in the world, but I believe it would have a more powerful effect to do it here, where we’re born and raised.”

Sherif Gaber

 

Sherif Gaber earlier tweeted news about the charges filed against him.

 

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