On January 29, the Cairo Economic Court ruled that Marco Gerges, a Coptic Christian, is guilty of multiple charges, including "contempt for Islam,” resulting in a five-year prison sentence.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reported that Gerges's charges included exploiting religion in promoting extremist ideas and infringing on the values of Egyptian family life. EIPR is an advocacy group that aims to strengthen and protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Egypt.
Other crimes related to cyber-crime were added, with Gerges’s defense team not getting a chance to respond to the new charges.
Gerges was arrested in June 2021 on suspicion of having sexual images on his mobile phone. Prosecutors said these images were offensive to Islam.
According to The New Arab, a source from EIPR privy to Gerges's case said he was just an ordinary citizen with no "affiliation to any entity." "Neither is he a writer nor a researcher as local media reported," the source added. Gerges has denied all the charges against him.
EIPR accused the Egyptian government of using unconstitutional laws and unfair court proceedings to target individuals accused of blasphemy. "The verdict against Gerges is one of a series of prosecutions as well as persecutions of citizens within the context of restricting freedom of expression," EIPR added.
Last year, as the U.S.'s outgoing president peddled his false election claims, Egypt started cracking down on human rights activists and other citizens suspected of blasphemy. The Egyptian government was bracing for a possible change in their ties with the U.S. as the incoming president took office, EIPR reported.
The Egyptian government also targeted EIPR's members and correspondents. The human rights watchdog fears that Gerges' prosecution will signal an increase in human rights violations in Egypt. The sentencing will "open the door for misusing these accusations as breaching freedom of expression and thought, belief and creativity," EIPR added.