Baha'i News -- Egypt jails two Scientologists
Egypt jails two Scientologists
By Issandr El Amrani
Published 3/5/2002 4:36 AM
CAIRO, March 5 (UPI) -- Two members of the Church of Scientology are being held by Egyptian authorities
under charges of "contempt of religion." They are accused of trying to spread their doctrines "with the aim
of sparking riots."
"Contempt of religion" is a charge that has come up increasingly often in Egypt in recent years. Similar
accusations have been used against other non-mainstream religious groups or to punish groups whose
activities are not illegal.
The Church of Scientology has denied that it had sent people to establish a branch in Egypt, saying that
the two were representatives of an Italian publishing firm that sold the works of Scientology's founder, L.
"We are greatly concerned at their prolonged detention, which appears to be a violation of their right to
freedom of expression," said Leisa Goodman, the Church of Scientology's human rights director.
Mahmoud Massarwa, 28, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin, and his wife Wafaa Ahmad, 26, were arrested
on Dec. 24 on suspicions that they were trying to spread Scientology in Egypt and harm Egypt's two main
religions, Islam and Christianity. Proselytizing is illegal in Egypt, where Muslims represent approximately
90 percent of the population and Coptic Christians make up most of the remaining 10 percent.
On Feb. 27, a court in the affluent Cairo suburb of Heliopolis extended for 30 days the custody of Massarwa
and Ahmad to allow for further police questioning. According to court sources, they have confessed to
investigators that they were sent to spread Scientology's doctrine in Egypt after entering the country on
the grounds of establishing an office to promote the publishing firm's interests. In addition, the Middle
East News Agency, Egypt's state-owned press agency, reported on Feb. 27 that Ahmad, a Palestinian citizen,
had been selected because her nationality "would help win sympathy from the Egyptian people."
The couple are accused of "contempt for monotheistic religions by trying to spread a new religious
doctrine, Scientology, that damages the principles of Islam and Christianity." They are also suspected of
intending to spread the doctrine "with the aim of spreading riots."
The Church of Scientology has denied the charges.
"They were not official representatives of the Church of Scientology," said Goodman. "They were
representing the Italian branch of New Era Publications, which publishes the works of L. Ron Hubbard, the
founder of Scientology."
Goodman said Massarwa and Ahmad were in Egypt to promote Hubbard's book "Dianetics," which she said does
not promote any religion or discuss the subject of religion. She also stressed that the Egyptian censorship
authorities had authorized the book's entry into the country.
In Egypt, any imported book or other cultural product must first be approved by a censorship bureau. Works
that attack religion, feature graphic sexuality or criticize President Hosni Mubarak's government are
frequently banned from entering the country.
"Dianetics" is cited, along with other texts by Hubbard, on the Church of Scientology's Web site as an
important spiritual underpinning of the religion.
International human rights organizations have criticized Egypt for its treatment of Bahais. Between January
and April of last year, 17 alleged members of the Bahai faith from the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag
were arrested and detained without trial. At least 10 of them remain in prison without being granted a
trial under charges of debauchery -- including incest.
The Bahai faith, which originated in Iran in the late 19th century, is an offshoot of Islam that is
considered heretical to mainstream Islam because it denied that Mohammad is the last prophet sent by God.
Bahais often face discrimination in the Islamic world. In February 2001, a U.N. Special Rapporteur noted
that in Egypt, "Bahais are not allowed to meet in groups, especially for religious observances, and their
literature is destroyed."
In another case, a verdict is expected this week in one of Egypt's State Security Courts -- a parallel
system to the normal judicial courts that answers directly to the executive. Six Egyptian nationals are
accused of "exploiting religion for extremist ideas with aim of provoking a conflict or of showing scorn or
contempt for one of the divinely revealed religions." The case is widely believed to involve no more than a
Muslim sect with unorthodox fasting and praying practices.
It isn't only religious groups that are targeted. "Contempt of religion" was also cited as one of the
accusations against 52 allegedly homosexual men who were arrested in May 2001 on a floating discotheque on
the Nile, the "Queen Boat." The 52 -- 23 of whom were convicted with sentences ranging from one to five
years --were also accused of being members of a satanic cult. The religious charges allowed prosecutors to
jail the defendants, since homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt.
The Scientology case, like others before it, is unlikely to elicit much public sympathy. Most Egyptians are
conservative and the press -- both state-owned and independent -- has a tendency to run articles echoing
the state's position. If convicted, Massarwa and Ahmad may face up to five years in jail. Their next
hearing for a trial date to be set will take place at the end of March.
©Copyright 2002, United Press International
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