Freedom of academic research:

From confiscation to charges of apostasy


4- The ruling with regard to basic human rights

I. The violation of freedom of belief and expression

The level of progress reached by civilized societies is measured by the degree of freedom of thought enjoyed by individuals in those societies. Freedom of thought is a basic guarantee for future advancement as well as the ability for creativity and innovation. International human rights standards have established that no power may interfere with this basic human right.

The ruling on Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd is contrary to Article 46 of the Egyptian Constitution which stipulates that 'the State guarantees freedom of conviction and freedom to practice religion.' It is also contrary to Article 47 which states that 'freedom of opinion is guaranteed whether expressed orally, through writing, through art or through any other means of expression.' Finally, the ruling is contrary to Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Since the issue of apostasy is not dealt with by domestic law; therefore, it becomes necessary for Egyptian judges to work within the framework of International Law which discusses freedom of opinion, expression, and belief. In this regard, we find that the Court of Cassation has ruled that International Law is a part of Egyptian domestic law without exception, in accordance with the fact that Egypt is a member of the international community. Therefore, an Egyptian judge is obliged to impose these standards in matters not dealt with by domestic law. (Appeals 259 and 300 of 1951, Session 3/25/82 - Laws including 3 bis. 168)

The Court of Cassation has written in a number of its rulings the duty of applying international covenants, which Egypt has signed along with other nations, and has expressed their preeminence in local law. (Review of laws from Session 39 to 52 bis. 164 and afterward)

II. The ruling threatens freedom of scientific research

The world today is witnessing rapid scientific developments. Cooperation is a necessary condition for progress and development, and this is only possible by increasing scientific research and protecting it from restrictions. Recent progress in modern science, such as genetic engineering and organ transplants, provide all societies with potentials that would not exist in the presence of suppression of freedom of scientific research. As stipulated by Article 3 of the Lima Declaration regarding

academic freedom:

Academic freedom is a necessary precondition to pedagogical functions, research, administration, and other services upon which universities and other higher institutions of learning are founded. All members of the academic community have the right to pursue their jobs without discrimination of any kind or fear of any interference or compulsion coming from states or any other sources.

The ruling that Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd is an apostate has created an atmosphere of blindness, tension, and intolerance which stunts the growth of thought in scientific research. As a result, academics and intellectuals may avoid undertaking research that might anger non-specialists and lead to a fate similar to that of Dr. Abu Zayd. This opposes the spirit of Article 6 of the Lima Declaration which states that 'members of the academic society who undertake research projects have the right to carry out their research without any interference. They also have the right to publish the results of their research in the utmost freedom and to publish it without censorship.'

Furthermore, fatwas accusing researchers of apostasy are not limited to the social sciences, but also extend to the natural sciences, as in the case of the well-known fatwa issued by the Saudi Mufti, Ibn Baz, who accused all those who believed that the world was round as being apostates. The same accusations have been made with regard to genetic engineering..... etc.

III. The ruling destroys the concepts of citizenship

The ruling states that: 'the defendant's proposition that the requirement of Christians and Jews to pay jizya (tax) constitutes a reversal of humanity's efforts to establish a better world is contrary to the divine verses on the question of jizya, in a manner considered by some, inappropriate, even for temporal matters and judgments not withstanding its inappropriateness when dealing with the Quran and Sunna, whose texts represent the pinnacle of humane and generous treatment of non-Muslim minorities. If non-Muslim countries were to grant their Muslim minorities even one-tenth of the rights accorded to non-Muslim minorities by Islam, instead of undertaking the mass murder of men, women, and children, this would be a step forward for humanity. The verse on jizya, verse 29 of Sura al-Tawba, which the defendant opposes, is not subject to discussion.' (p. 16 of the judicial opinion)

The appeal ruling judged this kind of talk to be apostasy and a sufficient reason to declare Abu Zayd an apostate on the grounds that 'he has refused to accept what is religiously proven without doubt.' This destroys the basis of citizenship rights by denying non-Muslim citizens such rights. Such an idea is unacceptable to contemporary human conscience, regardless of the cloak under which it lies.

IV. The ruling denies women's dignity

The Court objected to Dr. Abu Zayd's denunciation of the permissibility of the ownership of slave girls. The ruling states that the rejection of this principle considered 'religiously proven without doubt' is 'contrary to all the divine texts which permit such provided that the required conditions are met.' (p. 16 of the judicial opinion). There is no doubt that this diminishes a woman's dignity by making her a mere sexual object to be owned, and represents a return to concepts of bondage and enslavement rejected by humanity in its path to justice, freedom, and equality. The ruling may, in this respect, be considered a violation of Article 4 of the International Declaration of Human Rights and Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as a violation of the convention on the abolition of slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices similar to slavery.

V. The ruling is contrary to the concept of inherent rights

The forced separation by law of Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd and Dr. Ibtihal Younis, is a violation of the most fundamental human rights, the most important of which is the right to have a family without aggression or interference in its affairs. This is a violation of Article 50 of the Civil Code and Article 45, clause 1 of the Egyptian Constitution. The lawsuit and the subsequent ruling have constituted an arbitrary infringement on the personal life of Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd and Dr. Ibtihal Younis. This is a violation of Article 12 of the International Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the latter which affirms that:

1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.

2. Every person has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Finally, CHRLA calls on all institutions of civil society and the State to act. For this ruling is, in fact, not a charge of apostasy against Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd only, but also against the Egyptian Constitution, all institutions of civil society, and the State itself. Furthermore, it has dangerous consequences for human rights organizations, on the grounds that adherence to the concept of citizenship based on factors other than religion is deemed by this ruling a denial of a religious truth, and thus is apostasy. Moreover, the Egyptian Constitution guarantees the right of citizenship and equality between citizens and opposes such concepts as jizya. Therefore, may it be considered a heretic constitution? This judicial ruling plunges the whole of civil society into a very dangerous situation.

Therefore, CHRLA declares its solidarity with Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd and Dr. Ibtihal Younis and calls for the institutions of civil society to work together to bring about:

1. An end to all legislative loopholes which permit such rulings to be made and, in particular, the passing of legislation that clearly stipulates the abolition of hisba lawsuits;

2. The alignment of Egyptian legislation with established international criteria on human rights;

3. Legal protection for scientific research;

4. Necessary safeguards to protect the dignity and rights of women and to prevent any intervention in their private lives by calling for the implementation of legislation concerning the abolition of all forms of discrimination against women.


Introduction | Parts 1,2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Conclusion

Go back to The case of Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd index Go back to CHRLA publications index

Go back to CHRLA homepage