A judge in Upper Egypt has upheld a six-year prison sentence for Makarem Diab, a Coptic Christian wrongly convicted of “blasphemy” against Islam and inciting sectarian strife.
In his April 5th judgment, the judge in Assuit refused to strike down a February 29 sentence delivered to Makarem Diab, 49. The charges stem from an argument that Diab had in February with Abd Al Hameed, a fellow employee at Deer Al Gabrawy Prep School.
From the start, the charges against Diab were inflated, according to his lawyer, Ahmed Sayed Gebaly.
“I know Makarem well because we grew up together, and I know he wouldn’t do that,” said Gebaly, a Muslim. “To be honest, he didn’t do anything wrong. If he did, I would have told him.”
Gebaly said he was surprised by how far Al Hameed took the accusations. “The whole thing was just an ordinary discussion,” he said. According to Gebaly, Al Hameed told Diab, an administration worker, that Jesus had sex with at least 10 women who were “Mehram,” or forbidden to Him under Islamic law (though Islam appeared more than six centuries after Jesus). Mehram status refers to forbidden marriage or sexual relations, such as those between immediate family members.
Diab countered Al Hameed’s claims – for which there is no historical record – by stating that Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic religion, had more than four wives – a view commonly held by Islamic scholars, though disputes arise over whether he had more than four wives over the course of his life or simultaneously.
For unknown reasons, Al Hameed waited 11 days to report his allegations against Diab to a misdemeanor court. Police arrested Diab and held him for four days before he was presented to a judge. On February 29, in a 10-minute court hearing without a defense attorney present, the judge sentenced Diab to six years in prison for “insulting the prophet” and “provoking students.”
Diab received an appeal hearing on March 16, but Al Hameed instigated a massive riot by a large throng of Muslim attorneys outside the courthouse, according to Gebaly. The enraged lawyers burst into the courtroom during the hearing, assaulted Diab’s attorneys and blocked access to the courtroom. The judge upheld the six-year sentence, but immediately scheduled an appeal hearing. Gebaly said the judge upheld the sentence out of fear.
Gebaly, who was outside the courthouse when the attack happened says, “Soon after the attack, I was called by these [Diab’s] lawyers, and they told me that they were beaten up inside the court and in front of the judge. I was shocked that the judge kept the six-year sentence. Most of the lawyers defending Diab were Muslims,” he added.
Gebaly went to the next hearing on April 5; once again, the judge’s ruling surprised him. “We were expecting that he would be released with no charges, but the law was used in the wrong way, and now we are trying to appeal again, if his appeal gets accepted,” Gebaly said.
The action against Diab is yet another example in the recent string of such judgments against Christians of how members of the Muslim majority in Egypt are increasingly using religious-based laws to persecute Christians or even Muslims who don’t conform to a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam.
Diab is currently in Assuit General Prison awaiting appeal. Gebaly said that he is being treated as well as one can be while in prison.
Father, we lift up Makarem Diab as he sits in the Egyptian prison. Thank You for Muslim lawyers who have stood on His behalf. May He know Your constant presence with him and live with the purpose of serving You in prison or out. Grant him peace and the knowledge that many are standing by him in prayer before Your throne. Overrule where the laws are being applied wrongly. Give him favor with the courts that he might be released. And in this new regime in Egypt, may all, including Christians, know equity and justice in the laws of the land. In the name of Jesus who understands the sorrow of the oppressed, Amen.