Egyptian Facebook atheist risks prison sentence

Egyptian Facebook atheist risks prison sentence
Karim al-Banna, a 23 Egyptian self-professed atheist, says wants to leave his native country, as he awaits an appeals court decision on whether to uphold his 3-year sentence.
2 min read
Karim al-Banna awaits the Alexandria court's decision (AFP)

An Egyptian appeals court is scheduled to decide on Monday whether to uphold a 3-year sentence against a 23-year-old atheist for “insulting Islam”.

Karim al-Banna, an engineering student from Alexandria who is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, now says that he wishes he could leave Egypt.

“All I want now is to leave Egypt. Life is not possible for atheists here,” Banna told AFP.

Banna, who said that he became an atheist after growing disillusioned with the Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in November after going to the police to sort out a dispute with his neighbours. He was instead arrested for his atheism.

He spent 55 days in jail before being released on bail.

“They are trying me only because I am an atheist. I have not insulted Islam, they think that atheism in itself is degrading to Islam,” Banna said.

Banna is not the only atheist to face legal troubles in Egypt.

In February, Sharif Abd al-Adheem, a student at Suez University, was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine for “insulting religion”.

The president of Suez University reported Abd al-Adheem to the authorities for setting up an atheist group on Facebook.

Both the cases against Abd al-Adheem and Banna were criticised by Egyptian rights group, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

“The continued issuing of legal rulings against citizens in response to their right to express themselves in religious matters is a solidification of the restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt,” AFTE said.

This was echoed by Human Rights Watch, who said that atheists are among Egypt's “least-protected minorities”.

“Egyptian authorities need to be guided by the constitution and stop persecuting people for atheism,” the group said.