Egyptian writer jailed for criticizing ‘Bakra Eid’ as ‘greatest massacre’

Written by Javed Anand | Published on: January 27, 2016

Fatima Naoot    Image: Reuters/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper

Egyptian writer and poet Fatima Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of about Rs. 1.7 lakh on Tuesday (January 26) after being held guilty of ‘contempt of religion’.  The jail sentence is to be carried out with immediate effect, though she could appeal from behind bars. The court ruling comes just a day after the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring when hundreds of thousands of men and women had taken to the streets, occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding freedom and democracy. 

“I’m not sad about the sentencing as I don’t care about going to jail. I’m sad that the efforts of reformists have been wasted,” Naoot stated in response to her conviction.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has strongly condemned the conviction saying, “The continuous curbs put on freedom of opinion and expression in Egypt, as well as the severe expansion in the use of the ‘contempt of religion’ charge for the prosecution of opinion makers… Such a matter, in turn, makes Egypt one of the most Arab countries that show hostility to freedom of expression as well as press freedom, especially that about 59 journalists have remained in prison so far.”

In a post on her Facebook page and Twitter October 1, 2014, Naoot had criticised the Muslim practice of animal sacrifice during the annual Eid al-Adha (popularly referred to as ‘Bakra Eid’ in India) as the "greatest massacre committed by human beings."

In an article she also wrote in the daily El-Masry El-Youm she had opined: "(It's) a yearly massacre because a good man once had a nightmare about his good son, and although the nightmare has passed for the good man and his son, the (sheep) pay their lives as a price for that holy nightmare."

Eid al-Adha, considered more important that Eid al-fitr which marks the end of Ramzan,   commemorates the willingness of Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail as an act of submission to God’s command; God intervened to provide Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice instead.

During her trial, the outspoken, secularist Naoot had denied insulting Islam. According to Al Ahram Online, she had argued that her criticism was directed at “humans who justified their lust for killing and enjoying the smell of cooking game by attempting to bestow a divine meaning to their actions”.

In late December, popular Egyptian TV host Islam Behery was sent to prison, also on the same “contempt of religion” charge after a court had reduced an earlier five year sentence to one year. Behery was ‘guilty’ of questioning some of the sayings (ahadith, plural of hadith) attributed to Prophet Mohammed. Along with the Quran, most Muslims consider ahadith collections as a primary source of Islamic jurisprudence. However, across the world today a growing number among Muslims consider themselves as ‘Quranists’ and question the authenticity of the ahadith which were compiled over two centuries after the death of the prophet.    

In an article she also wrote in the daily El-Masry El-Youm she had opined: "(It's) a yearly massacre because a good man once had a nightmare about his good son, and although the nightmare has passed for the good man and his son, the (sheep) pay their lives as a price for that holy nightmare." 
 
​Naoot was convicted under Article 98, which states: “Whomever exploits religion in order to promote extremist ideologies by word of mouth, in writing or in any other manner, with a view to stirring up sedition, disparaging, or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity, shall be punished with imprisonment between six months and five years, or the payment of a fine of at least EGP 500.” 
             
The incarceration of Naoot is sure to lend fresh charge to organisations such as the Council of ex-Muslims of Great Britain (CEMB) which have been campaigning against apostasy and blasphemy and related issues being treated as criminal offences. According to CEMB, “Apostasy and blasphemy are not crimes but basic human rights as are interpreting, mocking, criticising, and renouncing Islam openly and freely.”

A CEMB press release, issued possibly hours before news of the sentencing of Naoot stated, “In 2016, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will continue to highlight the cases of those languishing in prisons or on death row for apostasy or blasphemy”. The cases on the CEMB list released on January 26 include:

​Abdulaziz Dauda, also known as Abdul Inyass, an Islamic scholar sentenced to death in Nigeria for blasphemy for a lecture which was deemed to be blasphemous against Islam’s prophet. He was also jailed for 3 years for inciting public disturbance.

​Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and artist who lives in Saudi Arabia, has been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ for his poetry which the regime claims has questioned religion and spread atheism.
Hesameddin Farzizadeh, 23 year old writer and student who has been sentenced to 7 years in prison, 74 lashes and the death penalty for apostasy in Iran for his book examining the history and questioning facets of Shi’a Islam.

Islam Behery, Egyptian TV host was sentenced to prison for “contempt of religion.”
Mohamed Cheikh Ould, Mauritanian activist and blogger sentenced to death for apostasy for an article he wrote, which the court found was critical of Islam and Islam’s prophet.

Raif Badawi, Saudi secular blogger and founder of a liberal website sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for apostasy for raising questions about religion and politics.
27 Sudanese Muslims from the Qurani sect, charged with apostasy and disturbing the public peace according to article 126, section 2 of the Sudanese criminal law for considering the Quran holy but believing that the Hadith, sayings and actions of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, are not authentic.

Waleed Abu Al Khair, Saudi human rights lawyer (including for his brother-in-law Raif Badawi) was found guilty by a special counter-terrorism court of, among other charges, insulting the judiciary, disobeying the ruler, and harming the reputation of the Kingdom. He was offered a reduced sentence of 10 years if he apologized for his “offences”, but when he refused an appeal judge ordered him to serve the full term…

Fatima Naoot has just made it to the list.