Egypt: Man who tore Bible to go on trial for blasphemy

Published 28 September 2012  |  

In a rare exercise of its anti-blasphemy laws, an Egyptian court has decided to put on trial a radical Muslim blogger who tore pages of the Bible while attending protests at the US Embassy in Cairo two weeks ago.

Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah, known as Abu Islam, was shown in two videos posted online desecrating the Christian Bible. In one video, Abdullah stood before a large crowd and ripped up the holy book. In the second video, he told the camera, "Next time I will urinate on it."

Abdullah, who is part owner of the ultra-conservative Islamic television channel Al Uma, told The Associated Press that he was not practising "contempt for religion" when tearing up the Bible.

"I had always wished to go to court to explain to the world that there is no such thing as the Bible. Every church in the West has its own holy book," Abdullah told the AP.

The news agency reports that practising "contempt" for a so-called heavenly religion, which includes Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, is punishable by up to five years in prison in Egypt, according to the country's anti-blasphemy laws, although courts hold the majority of their religious contempt cases for those speaking out against Islam.

In a related incident, Coptic Christian Saber Eyead Zaki was arrested for posting the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video on social networking sites.

According to NBC News, Zaki was taken from his home without a warrant and is being held in an undisclosed location. He also stands trial for "contempt for religion", a the independent US-made film is deemed offensive to Islam.

These two trials are related to the current unrest in the Middle East, parts of Asia, and parts of Europe over "Innocence of Muslims", which reportedly mocks the prophet Muhammad.

The film's promotion two weeks ago caused massive protests throughout the world, resulting in the reported death of at least 51 people, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

These simultaneous trials bring up questions of free speech and the right to protest in Egypt, two human rights issues that were considered to be great gains as a result of the Arab Spring uprisings and ousting of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Judging by these two recent cases, free speech continues to be limited in Egypt. Those critical of the country's human rights policies are questioning if the upcoming constitution, due to take effect by the end of 2012, will safeguard free speech and protest rights.

Critics have also questioned, assuming Egypt's new constitution does protect free speech rights, how the "contempt for religion" charge will hold up.

In a recent speech to the United Nations, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said that the North African country does welcome freedom of speech, to an extent.

"Egypt respects freedom of expression. One that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or culture. A freedom of expression that tackles extremism and violence. Not the freedom of expression that deepens ignorance and disregards others," Morsi said at the UN General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday.

Abdullah's trial begins 30 September. His son and a journalist who interviewed him shortly after he tore the Bible have also been referred to trial, an Egyptian official told the AP, although the dates of their individual trials have yet to be set.

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