CAIRO: The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) demanded nine Egyptians detained under the emergency law for holding unorthodox religious views be released Sunday, in a message to Minister of the Interior Habib El-Adly.
The nine detainees are being held due to their adherence to the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam, according to the EIPR.
Adherents to the Ahmadiyya community follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th Century religious figure in India who claimed to be Islam’s Messiah in 1891.
Article 98 of the Egyptian penal code makes “contempt for the Islamic religion” a punishable crime. As Ahmadis are perceived to revere the teachings of a prophet coming after the Prophet Mohamed, the Egyptian government believes them to be punishable under Article 98.
The nine detainees have been held for the last two months. They were arrested on March 15, 2010, and held by the State Security Investigation in Cairo, Qalyoubiya, Minya, and Sohag governorates.
Four others were also arrested, but later released. In addition, the State Security Investigators confiscated books and computers belonging to the accused.
The detainees are being held in Tora Prison, according to the EIPR.
“We were only made aware of the case recently,” Soha Abdelaty told Daily News Egypt Sunday. “Once we found out, we began taking [these actions.]”
The EIPR’s message to El-Adly called for the interior minister to “order an end to the Supreme State Security Prosecutor’s investigation of all detainees on charges of ‘contempt of religions’ and hold to account those officials responsible for the arrest and interrogation of citizens solely for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of belief and expression,” according to a press release.
Abdelaty told Daily News that the EIPR had not received a response from the minister.
In addition to petitioning the minister, the EIPR has begun attending interrogations of the accused, according to Abdelaty.
“They [the accused] are still being interrogated,” she said. “They haven’t been brought to court yet or indicted.”
On May 12, State Security officers arrested the wife of one of the nine detainees. An EIPR lawyer observed her interrogation the following day.
“The sort of questions the accused are being asked are specifics about their religious beliefs,” Abdelaty said. “The people acknowledge they belong to this faith [Ahmadiyya beliefs.]”
The EIPR lawyer present at the May 13 interrogation said questioning the suspect about her religious beliefs “violated constitutional protections for freedom of belief and personal freedom, upheld by Articles 41 and 46 of the Constitution,” according to the EIPR.
Prosecutors then released the suspect, but scheduled another interrogation for May 16. EIPR lawyers again were present with the suspect.
“The use of the emergency law to detain citizens because of their religious affiliation blatantly contradicts government claims that the infamous law is used solely in crimes involving terrorism or drug trafficking,” said the EIPR’s legal officer, Adel Ramadan, in a prepared statement.
“The government must immediately stop punishing people because they hold certain religious beliefs.”
“The Public Prosecutor should issue clear directives to all prosecutors banning the use of the notorious charge of ‘contempt of religions’ to interrogate individuals about their religious beliefs,” Ramadan added. “This is a flagrant violation of their right to freedom of religion and belief … this runs counter to the constitution and Egypt’s international obligations.”
Article 46 of the Egyptian constitution guarantees “the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites” while Article 41 states “individual freedom is a natural right and safeguarded and inviolable.
Save for the case of being caught red-handed, no person may be arrested, inspected, detained or his freedom restricted or prevented from free movement except under an order necessitated by investigations and preservation of the security of the society.”
However, Article 2 does declare Islam to be Egypt’s principal source of legislation.