Egypt Court Reconsiders Christian’s Blasphemy Conviction
After a three-year surge of blasphemy cases filed against Egyptian Christians, the nation’s highest court backtracked last month on its harsh verdict against one young Copt.
Just one month after Mohammed Morsi was elected President of Egypt, Bishoy Kameel Kamel Garas was sentenced to six years in prison in September 2012 for allegedly insulting Islam, the new Egyptian President and a Muslim sheikh’s sister. The charges were based on offensive posts that were found on a fake Facebook page opened in his name.
Three years later, on July 25 of this year, the Court of Cassation finally accepted the appeal made by Saeed, Garas’ attorney, to review his jailed client’s case one more time. The court ordered that Garas be brought from prison in Upper Egypt for the Cairo hearing, which is set for September 12.
Such an appeal can only be accepted by the highest court on the basis of a breach of law. In Garas’ case, the lawyer cited the Egyptian penal code, which sets a maximum three-year sentence for anyone convicted of several misdemeanor crimes committed simultaneously. Garas has already been jailed longer than that for the three crimes of which he was accused.
But Garas was not even guilty of the alleged crimes. Garas, now 27 years old, was working as a village primary school English teacher in Tima, a city on the west bank of the Nile, when someone created a fake Facebook page in his name.
According to Garas’ father, his son’s Facebook friends told him on July 28, 2012 that they were offended by insults he had written against them on Facebook. “Surprised, he quickly opened his laptop and found another fake Facebook account with the same data—his name, photo, everything. There were bad pictures and insults on this fake account,” the father said.
“Bishoy immediately posted warnings on his own Facebook page about this other fake account. And he also called the Internet police. He told them what had happened and asked them to investigate.”
So when Garas was summoned the next day to the Tima police station, “he assumed that the chief detective there wanted to investigate it,” his father said. When the teacher arrived with his laptop, however, he was confronted by Sheikh Mohammed Safwat Tammam, from the ultra-conservative Salafist movement within Sunni Islam. The cleric had already filed a formal complaint against Garas, accusing him of insulting Tammam’s sister, President Morsi and the Islamic religion on his Facebook page.
Insisting that he had not written the offensive posts, Garas explained that some unknown person had created this false account. He showed the chief detective his personal Facebook page, where he had posted a warning the previous day that a fake account had been set up in his name which did not belong to him.
According to his father, both the chief detective and the prosecutor were convinced of his innocence, but Sheikh Mohammed refused to withdraw his complaint. When Garas was taken the next day to appear in court before the Tima prosecutor, a large mob of angry Muslims gathered to protest against him.
Two of Garas’ friends identified and confronted the culprit who had created the fake Facebook account, a young Coptic acquaintance identified only as “Michael.” After recording his confession on CD, the two went with Garas’ father on August 2 to testify to a prosecutor in nearby Tahra.
Garas’ anxious parents waited for Michael’s arrest, questioning and their son’s release, but inexplicably that did not happen. For the next month, hearings on the case were adjourned, lawyers failed to appear and court-ordered evidence arrived late. Several times during the proceedings, large protests erupted outside the courtroom as angry Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood supporters shouted death threats against Garas.
Finally, on September 18, 2012, presiding Judge Mohammed Abu Saif convicted Garas on three counts of insult and blasphemy, sentencing him to a total of six years in prison. The ruling was upheld at the initial appeal.
The family received many death threats and threats to kidnap their three daughters, but their Muslim neighbors and other moderate Muslims intervened. The terrified family hid for a time in a relative’s home.
“The fanatic Muslims wanted to kill Bishoy, but the hand of God was stronger and protected him from them.” His mother said, adding that the policemen guarding her son had to hide him from the protestors at the hearings, sneaking him into the courtroom by a rear door.
After the sentencing, Garas was fired from his job and then insulted and beaten by Muslim prisoners during his three months in the Sohag prison, his father said. By God’s grace, he did not face similar mistreatment in the large New Valley Prison where he was later transferred. His family has been able to visit him once every three weeks there.
The entire family now eagerly awaits the September 12 hearing in Cairo, praying for justice.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we bring before You Bishoy Garas, falsely accused by those who hate You and Your people. Thank You for this new opportunity for true justice to occur, and we pray for both Bishoy and his family as they await this day in court. We pray against doubt and fear and that You will encourage them with Your Word in this time of waiting, and strengthen their faith. As they bring their requests before You in prayer, giving thanks for Your presence with them, we pray that Your peace, “that surpasses all understanding, will guard [their] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7) We pray for his release, for his innocence to be established and for his teaching position to be restored. In the Name of Jesus, who suffered injustice on our behalf and who was restored to glory, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, Amen.