The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) welcomed the decision by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor yesterday, 7 June 2010, to release six citizens detained for more than 80 days because of their affiliation with the Ahmadi confession. The prosecutor’s decision came four days after a summary court judge issued an order releasing three other defendants in the same case. The EIPR urged the Public Prosecutor to drop the charge of showing contempt for religion, leveled against the detainees by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor, and to hold officials who detained and interrogated citizens in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of belief and expression accountable.
“Holding citizens for such a long period simply because they espouse a different faith constitutes a form of arbitrary detention, and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Adel Ramadan, the EIPR’s Legal Officer. “The government must comply with its international commitments not to punish or question citizens because of their religious beliefs.”
On 15 March, a State Security police force launched an arrest campaign that targeted several individuals affiliated with the Islamic Ahmadi confession. At least nine people were arrested and several books and computers were confiscated during the raids. The nine detainees were held inside various State Security police facilities for more than six weeks without appearing before any judicial body or being charged with a crime. In April, the detainees appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecutor and were charged with showing contempt for the Islamic religion, a crime under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code; the case was registered as no. 357/2010. On 12 May, State Security police arrested the wife of one defendant in the case, and she was brought before the State Security Prosecutor, who charged her with showing contempt for religion after questioning her about her religious beliefs and whether she belonged to the Ahmadi confession. During questioning by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor, some of the detainees said they were tortured by State Security police to compel them to confess to the charges against them.
EIPR lawyers who were present at the questioning by the Supreme State Security Prosecutor asked that an independent investigation be opened into the allegations of torture. The lawyers also argued that questioning the defendants about their religious beliefs is a violation of the Constitution, which protects citizens’ right to espouse whatever belief they wish. The lawyers further argued that Article 98(f) of the Penal Code is unconstitutional because it violates the constitutional right to freedom of belief and expression. They also argued that Article 98(f) does not meet minimum standards of clarity and certainty required of any penal provision.
On 31 May, the detention order for the detainees expired in line with the Presidential Order to extend the State of Emergency and limit its application to terrorism and drug cases. The Supreme State Security Prosecutor then issued an order placing the defendants under preventive detention for four days starting on 1 June. On 4 June, a summary court judge issued an order releasing three defendants and extending the detention of the remaining six by 15 days for further investigation. In a surprise step, yesterday the Supreme State Security Prosecutor released the six remaining detainees.
Soha Abdelaty, the Deputy Director of the EIPR, said, “Article 98(f) of the Penal Code has been on the books for far too long. The government must take immediate measures to abolish this provision, which is used by State Security police to harass, imprison and torture those who hold minority intellectual and religious beliefs, from Baha’is and Qur’anists to Shi’ites and others.”