On Thursday, an appeals court in Beni Suef upheld a five-year sentence for Karam Saber, the author
The author was tried and sentenced in absentia last year on charges stemming from his 2010 collection Where is God. The book is a collection of eleven short stories that depict the lives of farmers and their relation to their Creator. Saber is a prolific author who had previously published more than 20 books.
After the initial sentencing, Saber turned himself in and received the same sentence in a retrial. He then appealed and was free on bail pending Thursday’s decision.
Numerous Egyptian authors and cultural figures have condemned the criminalization of Saber’s work, including novelists Salwa Bakr, Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, and Bahaa Taher, former culture minister Gaber Asfour, publisher Mohammed Baaly, and head of the Egyptian Writers Union Mohamed Salmawy. Many others have signed a petition demanding that legal proceedings against Saber end immediately and urging “legislative reform in accordance with the new constitution of January 2014,” which signatories note provides that “No freedom restricting sanction may be inflicted for crimes committed because of the publicity of artistic, literary or intellectual product.”
Saber’s trials began in April 2011 when an individual in Beni Suef filed suit against him, alleging that that his book contained statements insulting to religious beliefs. The book was referred to Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church for context analysis. Saber believed the case would be dismissed.
Apparently, however, religious scholars felt Saber’s book did contain an offense to religion. On May 7th, 2013 Saber was convicted in absentia by the Beba Misdemeanour Court. According to supporters, he had not even been aware of the machinations of the ongoing investigation until he found that he’d been given the maximum sentence: five years in prison and a 1,000-pound fine.
Note: Some reports are calling Saber’s an “atheist book,” but that is a mischaracterization.