Egypt: Atheist Karim al Banna Imprisoned for Three Years

Karim Al Banna

A court in Egypt recently sentenced a student to three years in prison for declaring on Facebook that he is an atheist and thereby offending Islam. Karim al Banna, 21, whose own father gave evidence against him, was sent to jail by a court situated in the Nile Delta region in Baheira on January 10.

Banna’s lawyer Ahmed Abdel Nabi told the media, “He was handed down a three-year prison sentence, and if he pays a bail of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($ 140) the sentence can be suspended until a verdict is issued by an appeals court,” adding that an appeal was to be heard on March 9.

Nabi said that Banna’s father had testified against him, fearing his son was beginning to embrace extremist ideas against Islam. Nabi also said that his client’s name had appeared on a list of self-proclaimed atheists in a local daily, after which his neighbours started to harass him. When Banna decided to file a complaint against his neighbours, he was accused of insulting Islam at the police station, where the officials later arrested him. The officials even let him know that they had been tracking him since the news report mentioned his name several months ago. Banna was taken into custody in November last year.

Even though Egypt’s constitution grants absolute religious freedom to adherents of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, those who speak against these faiths can still be charged with contempt of religion. According to Human Rights Watch, blasphemy charges have been filed against those who have been perceived to use religion to insult any one of the above monotheistic religions, propagate radical ideas to incite strife or damage national unity.

“Atheists are one of Egypt's least-protected minorities, although the constitution ostensibly guarantees freedom of belief and expression,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian authorities need to be guided by the constitution and stop persecuting people for atheism.”

Recently, Egyptian authorities have stepped up measures to counter atheism.

Photo Credits: CNN

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