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Egyptian writer may face jail for accusations of defaming religion

Egyptian writer and human rights activist Karam Saber will stand before a Beni Suef misdemeanor court on Tuesday to hear the decision regarding his appeal of a five-year sentence received last May on charges of defamation and contempt of religion.

 

The case began in April 2011, Saber told Ahram Online, when individuals related to Islamist currents in Beni Suef filed a lawsuit accusing Saber of defaming religion in his short stories collection entitled Ayna Allah (Where's God?).

 

Saber said the case did not move to court until the beginning of 2013, when Beni Suef's prosecutor turned the case over to the misdemeanor court. In May, he was sentenced in absentia to five years and a LE1000 bail.

 

"I was shocked to hear that I was sentenced to five years. I thought they had forgotten the case, but they came and tried to arrest me. I refused to go with them as the law gives me eight days to appeal the sentence," Karam said.

 

According to a statement made by a coalition of Egyptian right human rights organisations, the prosecutors undertaking the investigation consulted the church in Beni Suef as well as Al-Azhar to seek out their opinion as to whether the accusations were correct.

 

The church told the prosecution that the content of Saber's literary work contradicted divine religions, ridiculed the divine, and invented stories that stray from noble and sophisticated literature.

 

Al-Azhar affirmed the church's stance, stating that the work destroys intellectual values and tears apart the fabric of Egyptian society.

 

Saber, who believes the accusations to be false, appealed the verdict. The court adjourned the appeal decision until 22 October.

 

Saber says those who filed the lawsuit took his words out of context, adding that he did not defame religion in his short stories.

 

"In my stories, the characters are wondering where God is in the face of all the grievances and evils that they face. It's like they're asking him to interfere; this is not in contempt of religion, it is merely posing a question," Saber explained.

 

Saber does not believe the courts are the place to host these debates. "This is something the literary critic should do. Critics can judge the book because it's a work of fiction and not of reality, thus courts cannot interfere in such a matter," he added.

 

"The discipline of the modern critic separates the author from his characters; what is happening inside the literary work is totally fiction. You can't jail me because one of my characters kills the other."

 

Saber hopes the case will be dismissed, although the sentence will be appealed in front of the same judge who issued the first court rule.

 

A number of Egyptian writers and intellectuals, including writer Ibrahim Abdel-Meguied and poet Mahmoud Ramadan, will protest outside the court tomorrow against literary censorship and in solidarity with Saber.

 

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