Coptic Christian Kerolos Shouky Attallah will spend six years in an Egyptian prison and must pay the equivalent of an $840 fine for liking a Facebook page for Muslim converts to Christianity, according to Morning Star News (MSN).
Attallah was accused and arrested for blasphemy for his Facebook activity, shocking many and denting hopes that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s election would bring more personal freedom. Attallah is the third Christian to be sentenced in June for “seemingly insignificant charges,” according to International Christian Concern (ICC). The others include a teacher falsely accused of blaspheming Muhammad in the classroom and a Christian accused of documenting religious persecution against the church.
The court found the 29-year-old guilty of violating Article 98F, which forbids “defaming a heavenly religion,” as well as Article 176–inciting sectarian violence. Todd Daniels, ICC’s regional manager for the Middle East, said the blasphemy law is only used to defend Islam: “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a blasphemy charge in Egypt for blaspheming Christianity or Judaism—which are the three heavenly religions.” He added that 40 percent of blasphemy convictions are against Christians, who make up only 8 to 10 percent of the population.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended again in its 2014 report that Egypt be designated a country of particular concern, in part because of its laws restricting freedom of thought and belief, and its continued use of blasphemy laws.
“The bulk of the [blasphemy] charges target Sunni Muslim entertainers, prominent personalities, and journalists,” the USCIRF said. “Yet the majority of those sentenced by a court to prison terms for blasphemy have been Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and atheists, mostly based on flawed trials.”
Authorities arrested Attallah on May 28, after Muslims in his village learned he had liked The Knights of the Cross Facebook group page. The group is made up of Muslim-background converts and run by Arabic-speaking Christians, according to Daniels. MSN said the Muslims distributed leaflets calling for “vengeance” against Attallah and planned to attack him, but were prevented by officials, who arrested him.
Attallah’s lawyer, Rafla Zekry Rafla, told ICC the charges were unfair. “Kerolos didn’t intend to insult the Islamic religion,” Rafla told ICC. “He doesn’t have much experience in the internet plus he suffers from poor eyesight. So there was not any intention for the contempt or blasphemy of Islam.” Rafla is also president of the Human Rights Commission of the Luxor Bar Association.
While Rafla plans to appeal the verdict, Daniels said Attallah’s legal team doesn’t expect the court to throw out the charges. Rather, they hope for a reduced sentence.