The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights on May 14 called for the release of nine adherents of the Ahmadiyya sect detained under a controversial emergency law extended by parliament that week. The nine were arrested in March and charged with insulting Islam. “The arrest and interrogation of the Ahmadis is only the latest instance of the security apparatus’ abuse of the shameful, vague and unconstitutional provision on ‘contempt of religions,'” the statement said.
Insulting religion is illegal in Egypt, but in practice goes unpunished if it does not target Islam or occasionally Christianity. Ahmadis believe that a 19th century Indian mystic, Mirza Gulam Ahmed, was the messiah whose coming was predicted by the Prophet Mohammed. Orthodox Muslim scholars consider them heretics.
On May 12, Egypt’s parliament extended for two more years the emergency law, continuously in place since President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981. The extension did limit some of the law’s provisions, such as the government’s power to monitor all communications and censor media, restricting it to terrorism and drug-related cases. Parliament speaker Fathi Sorour said all detainees arrested under the law for other offenses would be released starting June 1, when the amendments take effect.
Hani Nazeer, a Coptic blogger, has been detained under the emergency law since 2008 after a posting on his blog linked to a website considered insulting to Islam. The law allows for indefinite detentions.
Yusef Zeidan, the Muslim author of the acclaimed novel Azazil, which angered the Coptic Church, said earlier this month that state security agents sought to question him for insulting Christianity. (AFP, May 14)