(AINA) -- In the latest in a series of "defamation of religion" cases, an appeal has been filed on behalf of a Egyptian Christian who was sentenced to six years in prison for "insulting the Prophet." Legal observers saw many flaws in the ruling of the judge of the Abanoub misdemeanor court, in Assiut province, while others accused him of appeasing a mob of 2500 Muslims who congregated outside the court and demanded the death penalty for the defendant, Makram Diab. Eyewitnesses reported that some of the Muslims carried knives and wanted to break into the court and kill Diab, but were blocked by the police.
Diab's Muslim defense lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, said that during his 18 years as lawyer, he has never experienced what he went through in this case. "Over 80 Islamist lawyers representing civil rights claimants filled the court, locked the door of the court from the inside, not allowing the judge out, and prevented me as the defense lawyer from going inside the court and defending my client."
A discussion on February 9 between the Makram Diab, who is a school secretary, and a Salafi school teacher became heated but then simply ended. Thirteen days later, on February 23, another teacher named Abdel-Hamid, who was not present during the quarrel or even at school on that day, filed a complaint with the police, signed by another 11 teachers, accusing Makram Diab of insulting Islam's prophet. "This was a normal quarrel between him and the Muslim teacher," said Gabali, "which could happen anywhere. It was provoked by the teacher, who has been transferred several times from different schools after being reprimanded for causing sedition, and was used by the Salafis for their benefit. This is a group of teachers who used Diab as a scapegoat."
Gabali said that when he approached the court house on the day of the trial, there was a huge mob of Muslims, in addition to high school teachers and students holding banners and chanting Islamic slogans. "We were about 14 to 15 people, including the 12 policemen who were there to secure the court, facing a crowd of over 2500 people." He waited outside in his car, to be called in by the police warden when it was secure for him to go inside, but this never happened.
"The Muslims' plan was to get the police engaged with me, so that they could attack my client inside the court."
The media gave minimal coverage to the case, and no account of the accusation was published, leaving it to the imagination of the readers and viewers.
Stories differ as to what the insults to prophet Mohammad were. According to the official court version, Makram Diab allegedly said that Mohammad sexually harassed his disciples. "This cannot be true at all," said attorney Gabali, who has known Makram personally all his life. "He is simply not capable of it. He is a simple person, who has nothing to do with religion or politics."
Diab's sister Hadia said that her brother simply asked the Muslim teacher whether it was true that Mohammad married 40 wives and the teacher said he would ask and let him know the answer. Michael, Makrab's son, said it was a quarrel. "The Muslim insulted the Christian religion and my father simply answered back. Was my father supposed to be insulted and keep quiet?
Defamation of Religion is considered a misdemeanor under Egyptian law, punishable by a prison sentence of one month to three years. The Abanoub court is a partial court and the judge is not allowed to pass a prison sentence exceeding three years.
Defense lawyer Gabali believes that the Abanoub judge had to pass this flawed ruling as he found himself in the midst of Muslim groups inside and outside the court. "I saw a group of lawyers entering court weeping, literally weeping, to plead with the judge to give the maximum sentence," he added. He said that he tried to solve the matter amicably before it went to court, but the Muslims refused and the reconciliation meeting was cancelled.
He called on the army to secure the court in the appeal session on March 15 in Assuit, "otherwise, we will have a repetition of the Abanoub trial, with mobs everywhere trying to influence the judge morally and religiously." He called on Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed forces to ensure that the trial in Assuit be fully secured by the army outside and inside the court, "otherwise, I cannot guarantee the safety of my client." Makram Diab is kept now in the high security section of the Assuit prison.