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Three-year jail sentence for Egyptian man in 'Innocence of Muslims' case denounced

Sentence comes ahead of vote on constitution which would have ‘devastating effect on free speech’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

Amnesty international has denounced the jailing of an Egyptian man on “defamation of religion” charges in relation to the controversial 'Innocence of Muslims' film.

Earlier today a court in Cairo sentenced Alber Saber Ayad, a 27-year-old computer science graduate and activist, to three years in prison after he was found guilty of disseminating material on the internet that defamed religions.

He is expected to be released on bail tomorrow pending his appeal. Amnesty described the case as an “outrageous” attack on free expression, saying it considered him a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. The organisation is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“This is an outrageous verdict and sentence for a person whose only ‘crime’ was to post his opinions online.

“This conviction will ruin his life, whether he serves the sentence or not. The court should have thrown the case out on the first day, yet now he’s been branded as having insulted religion.”

Alber Saber Ayad was arrested at his home in Cairo on 13 September, after angry groups of men surrounded his house and called for his death, accusing him of heresy and atheism and of promoting Innocence of Muslims - a short film regarded by many to be offensive. Police waited until the next day to respond to a call from Alber Saber Ayad’s mother. When they eventually arrived they arrested Alber Saber Ayad, confiscating his personal computer and CDs.

The activist’s lawyer told Amnesty that his client’s trial was marred by the judge’s refusal to allow the defence to call key witnesses - including the arresting and investigating officers, and those who first filed complaints against him. While he was held at Cairo’s El Marg Police Station, a police officer reportedly incited other detainees to attack him. During his trial he was held in poor conditions in Tora Prison - his cell was next to a sewer and lacked light or clean water until human rights organisations filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor on his behalf.

Alber Saber Ayad’s mother told Amnesty:

“This is pure injustice … I can’t believe during the investigations the boy was asked about his religion and how he practises it, this is none of their business. It’s been three months and I can’t eat or sleep because I can only see him ten minutes per week. I am calling for Alber to be released. He is just someone who says what he believes.”

Amnesty has raised his case with the United Nations.

The draft constitution as a threat to free expression:
The verdict against Alber Saber Ayad comes just days before Egyptians vote on a new constitution which, if passed, will ban criticism of religion and individuals - opening the door to many more cases like this one.

While Article 45 of the draft constitution protects freedom of expression, it is undermined by articles 44 and 31, which prohibit insulting and defaming religion or individuals, respectively. International human rights law protects expression of ideas even when they are considered offensive or insulting.

Hadj Sahraoui said:

“Provisions in Egypt’s new constitution violate the country’s international obligations to uphold freedom of expression and would have a devastating effect on free speech in the future.

“Egypt must stop using ‘blasphemy’ laws to prosecute people. Any new legislation or other measures must uphold people’s right to criticise religions and other beliefs and ideas as a vital part of the right to freedom of expression.”

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