In May, author Karam Saber was sentenced — in absentia — to five years in prison for alleged defamation of religion in his short-story collection أين الله (Where is God). Following protests from at least 46 Arab human-rights organizations, the case appeared again in mid-September, but was deferred until an October 22 hearing:
Thus tomorrow, Saber is scheduled to appear before the Court of Misdemeanors in Biba, Beni Suef, to appeal his sentence. The appeal also calls for the punishment of the sentencing judge.
The case stems from an April 12, 2011 complaint filed by citizens in Beni Suef, which accused Saber’s short-story collection, which deals with the everyday lives of farmers and peasants, of containing statements that defamed religion. The public prosecutor in Beni Suef investigated — which apparently meant asking members of the Coptic Church and a representative of al-Azhar for their opinions on the text — and referred the case to the Misdemeanor Court, which issued the maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Some have suggested that the real story isn’t about Saber’s book at all, but — according to a report in Daily News Egypt — “a result of personal feuds by police and Ministry of Endowments representatives because of Saber’s work defending farmers’ rights.”
In any case, such a ruling is chilling. In an interview with Aswat Masriya, Saber sensibly said that a “collection of short stories is a work of literature that should not be measured using ‘religious standards,'” and that “he will continue to defend his right of expression inside and outside of the court.”
In his commentary on the case for Sampsonia Way, Egyptian novelist Hamdy al-Gazzar wrote:
By October 22, the destiny of the writer and the future of the freedom of creativity will be determined in Egypt!