An Egyptian Coptic Christian was released from prison after being found innocent of "defaming Islam." The man had served more than three years in prison before his initial conviction was overturned on March 13.
Bishoy Kameel Garas was sentenced in September 2012 for offending Islam and criticizing former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Facebook, reports Christian Today. The Facebook account was later discovered to be falsely using Garas’ identity.
Human rights advocates lamented Garas’s alleged lack rights and protections.
“The defendant will have his three years in jail as credit, to be debited in case he’s sentenced for any future offenses,” said director of Nation Without Borders Safwat Samaan.
Mena Thabet, a religious freedom scholar at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, noted a lack of due process in Garas’ trial.
“The judge would not hear the difference between one’s own genuine Facebook page and a page created by another assuming a false identity,” said Thabet.
“To be accused of defamation [of Islam] is to be guilty of it, especially with the mob pressure and rioting accompanying the proceedings.”
News of Garas being wrongly imprisoned comes as Egypt experiences a crackdown on religious minorities and threats to the integrity of its legal system, reports Human Rights Watch.
In 2015, Egyptians continued to be arrested and imprisoned on charges of “blasphemy” and “contempt of religion,” despite the country’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.
Christians also continue to be targeted with violence in the country, often without intervention by authorities, according to Human Rights Watch.
Since January 2015, nine cases of “defamation of religion” have reportedly been filed in Egypt’s court system, reports Christian Today.
Religious minorities are not only threatened in Egypt’s court system. According to a 2016 Amnesty International report, “Women and members of religious minorities were subject to discrimination and inadequately protected against violence. The army forcibly evicted communities from their homes along the border with Gaza.”
The decline in legal protections and rights of Egypt’s religious minorities reportedly escalated following President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s inauguration in June 2014.