Egyptian Atheist Sentenced to Prison for 'Blasphemous' Online Statements

A Cairo court sentenced 27-year-old avowed atheist Alber Saber, who hails from a Christian family, to three years in prison on Dec. 12 for blasphemy and contempt for religion due to statements found on his computer.

"This is an outrageous verdict and sentence for a person whose only 'crime' was to post his opinions online," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy chief of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program, told The Associated Press in a Dec. 12 report.

"The court should have thrown the case out on the first day, yet now he's been branded as having insulted religion," Sahraoui added.

Saber was initially arrested in early September after he was accused of posting clips online of the short film "Innocence of Muslims," which sparked protests throughout the Middle East as it apparently insulted the prophet Muhammad.

Saber denied promoting the video, and was ultimately found guilty of blasphemy and contempt of religion due to other comments found on his computer by Egyptian authorities.

The 27-year-old atheist may appeal his verdict if he pays a bail of $167.

Saber is not the first to be charged for the promotion of "Innocence of Muslims."

In late November, an Egyptian court sentenced, in absentia, seven Egyptian Christians to death for their alleged participation in the film, although the sentencing was seen as largely symbolic considering none of the accused live in Egypt.

Critics contend that sentences such as Saber's come at a weary time for religious rights in Egypt, as the country is currently preparing to vote on a draft constitution that arguably limits the rights of religious expression.

The draft constitution was approved in late November by an Islamist majority without the presence of liberal or Christian members of the constitutional panel.

This draft increases the level of crime for insulting religion, as well as offers a dangerous amount of power to Muslim clerics regarding legislation.

"Expect to see many more blasphemy prosecutions in the future now that it's embedded as a crime in the constitution," Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times.

Still, Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, argues that he will rule the country in a democratic fashion, saying in late November on state-run television that there is "no place for dictatorship" in Egyptian government.

Evidently, many Egyptians seek to escape the autocratic binds of former ruler Hosni Mubarak, who was criticized for his militaristic method of control and ultimately overthrown as a result of the 2011 Arab Spring Uprisings.

As The New Yorker pointed out in a Dec. 13 article, "the direction that Mohamed Morsi steers in during the weeks ahead may define the limits - or the potential - of Islamist politics in the Arab world for many years to come."