In a new type of arrest for Egypt’s legal records, on Wednesday an investigative judge in the general prosecution ordered a man’s detention for 15 days on charges of declaring atheism.
The national security department in Ismailia announced Tuesday that Sherif Gaber, a student at Canal Suez University, was being interrogated for declaring his atheism on Facebook, after the university administration informed it that the 20-year-old had formed a Facebook page named “The group of the atheists.”
He was referred first to the general prosecution, which then referred him for interrogation by the National Security Agency, the formerly known as the State Security Investigation Services.
Mada Masr could find no Facebook group called “The group of the atheists,” although similar groups have recently been created and discussed in a new phenomenon for Egypt’s widely conservative society.
According to the Penal Code, there are three articles criminalizing such cases.
Article 98 of the Penal code stipulates that “the contempt of heavenly religions” through written, oral or any other means that could lead to sectarianism is punishable by six months to five years in prison, and/or fines of LE500 to 1000.
According to Article 160, the desecration of religious symbols is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years, and/or fines of LE100 to 500.
Article 161 stipulates that mocking a religion or religious rite in public is a crime carrying the same penalties as Article 160.
Ahmed Ezzat, a lawyer for the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, believes that the case against Gaber is based on a widely criticized law and unclear evidence.
“We have often called for the cancellation of that law as it’s a real assault on freedom of belief,” he said. “Also Gaber just called for his idea harmlessly, without violence or insulting any other religion.”