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Bishoy Ermia False News & Blasphemy Case

Court / Presiding Judge

First Review: Bandar Minya Mismdemeanour Court
Second Review: Minya Misdemeanour Appeal Court

Procedural History

On June 23, 2014, the court sentenced Bishoy Ermia upon first review. On July 20, 2014, the court ordered Bishoy Ermia’s release. On July 21, 2014, he was rearrested for blasphemy charges first filed against him in 2009. On December 28, 2014, the court dismissed two of the original three charges brought against Bishoy Ermia in 2013, reducing the sentence upon second review.

Verdict

Bishoy Ermia was sentenced to five years in prison and an LE500 fine upon first review. When the sentence was appealed, the second review of the case resulted in a one-year sentence and the dropping of two of the original three charges.

Summary of Reasoning

This case dates back to the December 2013 clashes between Muslims and Christians in Minya allegedly following a controversial relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. Bishoy Ermia was arrested and ultimately sentenced for inciting sectarian strife, depicting Christians as suffering from sectarian oppression, and reporting what the state referred to as allegedly “false news." In June 2014, he was sentenced for what the judge described as “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information." The second review of the case in December 2014 resulted in the reduction of the sentence to one year in prison. Although Bishoy Ermia had already completed the one-year sentence, security officials kept him in detention because of an alleged ongoing investigation related to prior blasphemy charges brought against him in 2009.

Anecdotal Notes

Bishoy Ermia had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1998; he received international attention in 2007 when he filed a lawsuit to change his religious affiliation on his national identification card. It was reported that while in detention, Bishoy Ermia regularly faced beatings by prison officers, was not allowed to receive Communion, and did not have access to a Bible. In January 2015, the six-month pretrial detention maximum to investigate Bishoy Ermia’s blasphemy charges expired; despite this, he was kept in detention.

Legal & Judicial Implications

Because of Bishoy Ermia’s conversion and contentious history with the state, there is fear that his sentencing was largely politicized and a result of his religious choices. There are also serious questions on the decision of security officials to keep Bishoy Ermia in detention despite the completion of his one-year prison sentence as well as the completion of his six-month pretrial detention period for the potential blasphemy charges. The lack of transparency around the 2009 blasphemy charges raises serious concerns on Bishoy Ermia's due process rights. Further, the beatings and poor detention conditions that he was subject to while in jail, coupled with the severe restrictions on his right to freedom of religion and belief, represent violations of Egypt’s constitutional and international legal obligations. In addition to concerns about blasphemy sentences violating an individual's constitutionally and internationally-guaranteed rights to freedom of expresision and belief, nongovernmental organizations have also pointed to the disproportionate number of blasphemy prosecutions involving religious minorities, thus furthering discrimination.