By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CAIRO, EGYPT. (ANS-April 6, 2016)– An Egyptian Copt, Bishoy Kameel Garas, has been declared “innocent” by the Cairo Court of Cassation after he served more than half his six year sentence for charges including defamation of Islam.
According to a story by World Watch Monitor, Garas, now in his late twenties, was jailed in Sept. 2012 for offending the country’s dominant religion, the then-Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and a Muslim sheikh’s sister. The charges related to Facebook posts found on a fake page opened in his name.
On July 25, Cairo’s senior court had ruled against the prison sentence, but Garas wasn’t released until Oct. 9, due to “intransigence by the prosecution, and prison authorities dragging their feet,” his lawyer Magdy Farouk Saeed told World Watch Monitor back in November.
Despite mounting evidence weighing on the side of his acquittal, the prosecution and two lower courts found Garas guilty, until the higher court finally declared him innocent on March 13.
World Watch Monitor said, “As with other blasphemy cases leveled against Christians and seculars, the proceedings were bedeviled by mob pressure and judicial religious prejudice.”
“Back in 2012, the defense team was mobbed by scores of angry people around and inside the courthouse shouting, ‘Are you Muslims or what?’ The lawyers were themselves accused of apostasy, and had to be spirited from the court’s security office,” said Ishak Ibrahim from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Coptic activists insist the proceedings were a travesty from the beginning.
“To be accused of defamation (of Islam) is to be guilty of it, especially with the mob pressure and rioting accompanying the proceedings,” said Safwat Samaan, director of Nation Without Borders, a human rights advocacy group.
Instead of investigating the hacking, which World Watch Monitor said Garas insisted was done out of malice by a man called “Michael,” the prosecutor said, “Bishoy is as good as Michael.”
Garas, an English teacher, had posted warnings on his own Facebook page about the fake account and alerted cyber police. He was still sentenced despite claims of a named hacker and cyber investigation reports attesting to his innocence.
“The judge would not hear the difference between one’s own genuine Facebook page and a page created by another assuming a false identity,” added Samaan, quoting sources close to the case.
The “guilty” ruling went ahead anyway, and was later partly upheld by a court of appeal.
After the acquittal
All experts agree that Garas, now legally cleared of guilt, cannot hope to receive adequate compensation.
“The defendant will have his three years in jail as credit, to be debited in case he’s sentenced for any future offenses,” said Samaan.
World Watch Monitor said quite understandably, Garas, didn’t have much to say about the legal side.
“Within ten days from the beginning of the proceedings, my school dismissed me from my job,” said Garas during a call-in with an Egyptian Christian television channel, Alhorreya TV.
He remains uncertain about the possibility of going back to his home town in the province of Asyut (370 km south of Cairo), or claiming his job back.
“Bishoy’s poor father spent money he could not afford over the trials of his son,” noted Samaan.
According to the EIPR, nine cases of “defamation of religion” have been filed in Egyptian courts since Jan. Twelve people have been convicted and 12 more cases are pending. Over the 2011-2013 period, courts processed 28 cases, where 28 defendants out of 42 were found guilty.
Earlier this year, on Feb. 25, Egypt sentenced four Christian teenagers to up to five years in prison each, for mimicking Islamic prayer as part of the ritual before beheadings carried out by jihadists.
On March 31, a court of appeal upheld a three prison sentence against a liberal Muslim poet, Fatma Naout, who had expressed disgust at the ritual killings of thousands of animals during Eid.
Last December, Islam Behery, a researcher with a wide TV following, was sentenced to a year’s incarceration for contending Islam’s received teachings were the source of terror.
For more information visit www.worldwatchmonitor.org.
Photo captions: 1) Garas is one of many entrapped by Islam’s “blasphemy” laws(World Watch Monitor), 2) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at email@example.com.
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