Egypt Delays Copt's 'Faked Facebook Blasphemy' Acquittal

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Bishoy Garas has always maintained his Facebook profile was hacked
Bishoy Garas has always maintained his Facebook profile was hacked (Courtesy/World Watch Monitor)

An Egyptian Christian jailed for 38 months on unsubstantiated charges has had his expected acquittal delayed again to February next year, his lawyer said.

Bishoy Garas was sentenced to six years in prison from September 2012 for offending Islam, the then Egyptian President Morsi and a Muslim sheikh's sister. However, the charges, relating to Facebook posts, were found on a fake Facebook page opened in his name.

He posted warnings on his own Facebook page about the fake account and alerted cyber police.

Still, he was sentenced despite new claims by his friends of a named hacker, as well as cyber investigation reports attesting to his innocence. 

Garas was due to have a ruling in favor of his acquittal on Nov. 14, but the judge put it off again, owing to "the issue's sensitivity," the lawyer Magdy Farouk Saeed said.

"The judge adjourned the case till Feb. 13, 2016. He does not wish to issue his ruling at this time in the full presence of the court," he added.

"This is due to the sensitivity of the issue," Saeed said, hinting that a "discreet" hearing with fewer attendees may be more appropriate. 

Garas' lawyer, however, was still confident about his client's upcoming acquittal. 

"The judge will rule in Bishoy's favor. It is as good as done," Saeed said, noting that his client was allowed to stand outside the dock during the hearing.

Garas was also not subject to any further questioning by the judge, he explained.

On July 25, Cairo's senior Court of Cassation had ruled against the six-year prison sentence earlier meted out to the Copt.

It took Garas until Oct. 9, however, to walk free, due to "intransigence by the prosecution, and prison authorities dragging their feet," his lawyer said.

A hearing had been first set by the Court of Cassation for Sept. 12. On the day, Garas was unable to appear. 

"Bishoy was (then) still being held in the New Menya Prison. The prosecution, due to hardline Islamic tendencies among its members, kept dragging its feet," Saeed told World Watch Monitor last week.

While Garas may have finally been freed from prison, he is still not free to go home.

'Advised' Not to Go Home 

Garas' father, Kameel, told World Watch Monitor his son was "advised" not to go home for fear for his life from possible attacks by Islamists.

On Friday, Oct. 9, Garas was released from the Tima police station in Sohag, Upper Egypt, having had the usual "interview" with the National Security Directorate first. 

"They advised us that my son should not head back home for fear for his life from possible attacks by radical Muslims," his father said. "We were told to wait for things to calm down after the elections have concluded," he added, referring to the country's first round of parliamentary polls, which saw a massive defeat for the hardline Salafist Al-Nur party. 

However, a second round of voting is due this Sunday, Nov. 22. 

For now, things are "normal and stable," Kameel Garas said, adding that the rest of the family can now go about business as usual. 

This contrasts sharply with events at the beginning of the ordeal. Back in 2012, the family had grounds to fear for their safety amid angry mobs swarming court hearings and vows to kill Garas and kidnap members of the family

According to Kameel Garas, his son was aghast by insults he had supposedly written on his Facebook page.

"Surprised, he quickly opened his laptop, and found another fake Facebook account with the same data—his name, photo, everything. There were bad pictures and insults on this fake account," the father said.

The primary school teacher immediately posted warnings on his Facebook page about this other fake account. He also called the cyber police and told them what had happened, asking them to investigate.

When Garas was summoned the next day to the Tima police station, he assumed the chief detective there wanted to investigate it. But the teacher arrived with his laptop, to be confronted by Sheikh Mohammed Safwat Tammam, from the ultra-conservative Salafist movement within Sunni Islam. The cleric had filed a formal complaint against the then 24-year-old Copt, accusing him of insulting Tammam's sister, the then Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi and the Islamic religion, on his Facebook page.

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