Press Release

April 30, 1997

Accusations of unbelief are a license to kill

The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid has received with great concern the news that the Azhar 'Ulema' Front has accused Dr. Hassan Hanafi, professor of philosophy at Cairo University, of being an atheist.

Dr. Yehia Isma'il, secretary general of the Azhar 'Ulema Front, has announced in a letter sent to the editor-in-chief of Afaq 'Arabiya newspaper, that Dr. Hanafi is propagating atheist ideas, and that the whole nation should mobilize against him.

CHRLA denies the right of any person or organization to probe into the beliefs and thoughts of others. The Center also asserts that such allegations, coming from respected institutions such as al-Azhar, will be like a license for armed Islamic organizations to kill, especially in the current atmosphere where fanatical religious intolerance is rampant.

The Center is reminded of the unfortunate incident where bullets ended the life of Dr. Farag Foda, triggered a few days after a similar press release issued by the Front accused Foda of being atheist.

The attempt on the life of Naguib Mahfouz similarly was carried out according to a fatwa issued by 'Omar 'Abdel-Rahman, the spiritual leader of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya (the Islamic Group), after 'Abdel-Rahman announced that the fact that Naguib Mahfouz had not expressed his remorse for writing the novel Sons of Gebalawi, meant that killing him was an Islamic duty.

It is also worth noting that a similar fatwa was issued by Ayman al-Thawahery, the leader of al-Jihad group, after the court ruling ordering the divorce of Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu-Zayd from his wife on the basis that his writings proved his apostasy and as such he was unable to stay married to a Muslim woman.

CHRLA expresses its condemnation of opinions such as this issued by al-Azhar Ulema' Front and its secretary-general, which can be considered the moral liquidation of Dr. Hanafi, and might very well lead to his physical liquidation. CHRLA asserts that the state should uphold its responsibilities in accordance with Article 20 of the ICCPR which states that:

"...2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."

CHRLA also asserts that its criticism of the apostasy campaigns carried out by certain groups and institutions in Egypt doesn't constitute in any way a restriction of the right to freedom of expression, but rather accords with Article 5 of the ICCPR which states:

"1. Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant."

The Center also reaffirms that intellectual disputes should not be solved through apostasy campaigns, but rather through serious dialogue in which all parties have equal opportunities to express their points of view, and where they can debate freely, without fear, threat, or hindrance.

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