In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
Bishoy Garas was jailed in September 2012 for offensive Facebook posts found on a fake page opened in his name.
Garas was jailed in September 2012 for offending the country’s dominant religion, the then-Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and a Muslim sheikh’s sister. The charges related to Facebook posts found on a fake page opened in his name.
Garas, a teacher of English, had posted warnings on his own Facebook page about the fake account and alerted cyber police. Still, he was sentenced, despite claims of a named hacker and cyber investigation reports attesting to his innocence.
MOB PRESSURE AND RELIGIOUS PREJUDICE
As with other blasphemy cases levelled against Christians and seculars, the proceedings were bedevilled by mob pressure and judicial religious prejudice.
“Back in 2012, the defence team was mobbed by scores of angry people around and inside the courthouse shouting, ‘Are you Muslims or what?’ The lawyers were themselves accused of apostasy and had to be spirited from the court’s security office”, recalled Ishak Ibrahim from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Coptic activists insist the proceedings were a travesty from the beginning.
“Instead of investigating the hacking, which Garas insisted was done out of malice by a certain ‘Michael’ (now in Italy), the prosecutor said, ‘Bishoy is as good as Michael!’”, Mena Thabet, a religious liberties researcher with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, explained.
“The judge would not hear the difference between one’s own genuine Facebook page and a page created by another assuming a false identity” added Samaan, director of Nation Without Borders, a human rights advocacy group.
The "guilty" ruling went ahead anyway, and was later partly upheld by a court of appeal.
Although on 25 July, Cairo’s senior court had ruled against the prison sentence, it took Garas until 9 October to be released, due to “intransigence by the prosecution, and prison authorities dragging their feet”, his lawyer Magdy Farouk Saeed told World Watch Monitor back in November.
Despite mounting evidence weighing on the side of his acquittal, the prosecution and two lower courts insisted on condemning the Christian, until the higher court finally declared him innocent on 13 March.
According to all experts, Garas, now legally cleared of guilt, cannot hope to receive adequate compensation.
“The defendant will have his three years in jail as credit, to be debited in case he’s sentenced for any future offenses”, Samaan affirmed.
Garas told the Egyptian Christian television channel, Alhorreya TV that “within ten days from the beginning of the proceedings, my school dismissed me from my job.” He does not know if he will be able to come back to his home town, or claiming his job back.
OTHER CASES OF “DEFAMATION OF RELIGION”
According to EIPR, nine cases of "defamation of religion" have been filed in Egyptian courts since January 2015. Twelve people have been convicted. Twelve more cases are pending.
Last February, four Christian teenagers were sentenced to five years in prison for mimicking Islamic prayer as part of the ritual before the beheadings carried out by jihadists.
On Thursday, 31 March, a court of appeal upheld a three-year prison sentence against a liberal Muslim poet, Fatma Naout, who had expressed disgust at the ritual killings of thousands of animals during the Muslim festival of Eid.