By International Christian Concern –
On December 22, 2018, an appeals court in Upper Egypt upheld a three-year prison sentence against Coptic Christian Abd Adel Bebawy. This disappointing verdict comes six months after Bebawy was arrested in his home village of Minbal. Bebawy was arrested on July 6 after posting an image of God, the angel Gabriel, and a verse from the Quran on Facebook.
One day after his arrest, a mob of Islamic hardliners gathered in Minbal and attacked the homes of several Christians. It is common for Islamic extremists to collectively punish Christians for the perceived wrongs of an individual. Youssef, a witness to the incident, told ICC at the time, “The Muslims came from all of the surrounding villages around Minbal… They all came with anger and stoned the Christian houses.”
Although six months have passed since the incident, the village has made it clear that Bebawy and his family are no longer welcome. When the court originally passed a prison sentence on Bebawy on November 27, his legal defense team believed that they would succeed in the appeal. His defense lawyers argued that no material evidence was presented against Abd. They further argued that Abd had reported his Facebook account as hacked in July and the Facebook post in question was immediately deleted.
One lawyer who advised on the case said, “This is not a sentence based on the law, but it is meant to please the public!”
“We were thinking that the appeal will end up setting Abd free, and we were thinking who will compensate Abd for the months detained in prison until we reached the appeal time. Who will compensate his family, who have left the village and his kids moved to another school?” Mona, a family friend, told ICC. “Now after the [three-year] prison sentence, there is no justice expected.”
“What [else] is expected by a blasphemy law?” asked Moheb, another family friend. “It is a law meant to be tailored for Christians so anyone can accuse a Christian and no matter what the proof of innocence is, he will be imprisoned.”
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report, the number of blasphemy cases in Egypt has increased since 2016. Many of these cases involve expressions made on social media. Blasphemy cases are prosecuted under Article 98(f) and carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The verdict of the appeal court is extremely disappointing and worrying, as it further ingrains violations of religious freedom into the strata of Egypt’s legal system. This unjust sentence affects not only Bebawy, but also his family who is now left without a breadwinner. The Christians in his village now live with the knowledge that any of their Muslim neighbors can accuse them of blasphemy, which can lead to their imprisonment with no evidence presented. If Egypt is truly serious about religious freedom, then the authorities must take active steps to protect the rights of Christians.”