The low-budget film caused outrage for mocking Islam and portraying the Prophet Mohammed as violent and immoral
An Egyptian protester grabs a tear gas canister to throw back towards the riot police during clashes near the US embassy in Cairo on September 13. The trial opened of an Egyptian Copt accused of blasphemy after posting on the Internet an anti-Islam video that sparked violent protests worldwide. © Khaled Desouki - AFP/File
The low-budget film caused outrage for mocking Islam and portraying the Prophet Mohammed as violent and immoral
Last updated: September 26, 2012

Trial begins for Egyptian man accused of blasphemy

An Egyptian Copt on trial for blasphemy on Wednesday denied the accusations, saying he was asked about his faith during questioning, in a case that has raised concerns of freedom of expression.

Albert Saber, 27, is accused of blasphemy, insulting religions and inciting sectarianism through his Internet postings including posting clips from an anti-Islam video that sparked violent protests worldwide, an AFP reporter said.

The low-budget film, "Innocence of Muslims," made in the United States caused outrage for mocking Islam and portraying the Prophet Mohammed as violent and immoral.

Saber was arrested at his home in Cairo earlier this month and has been held in preventative detention since. Authorities also broke into his home while he was in detention.

"I didn't do any of the things they accuse me of doing," Saber, dressed in white prison clothes, his head shaved, told AFP from the cage.

"Ninety percent of my friends are Muslim and we eat and drink together. I don't hate any religion," he said.

"The investigation was a religious one ... I was asked about my faith in the Koran and about my religion," he said.

After a brief hearing on the first day of his trial, the judge adjourned the proceedings to October 17.

Saber faces up to five years behind bars in a case that has sparked condemnation from human rights groups and raised concerns over freedom of expression under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, the first president after an uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

"Albert has nothing to do with the offensive film but the case was a way to calm down popular anger," Saber's lawyer Ahmed Ezzat, a Muslim, told AFP outside the court.

The trial "comes in a general atmosphere of discrimination and bad management of justice especially when it comes to minorities," Ezzat said.

His mother, Kariman Masih said she was "shocked, terrified" by what is happening.

"I can't believe all that is happening to us and to my son," she told AFP.

"I'm defending my son and his right to expression. Didn't the revolution call for freedom?," she said.

Ezzat said Saber had launched discussions about religion online and "criticised fundamentalist men of religion."

"The problem is with the articles in the law and not what Albert did. The law relating to blasphemy can be interpreted in 100 different ways," Ezzat added.

Copts have repeatedly criticised authorities for what they say are double standards when it comes to cases of blasphemy and offence to religion.

Egypt's Christians, who make up six to 10 percent of the 82 million population, have regularly complained of discrimination and marginalisation. They have also been the target of numerous sectarian attacks.

Ahmed Seif al-Islam, a lawyer and member of the National Council for Human Rights who attended the hearing, said the case "is linked to the charged atmosphere caused by the film."

"We are here to support a fair trial, fairness has nothing to do with religion," said Seif al-Islam.

Saber's case is likely to fuel the fears of Egypt's Copts who fear that the anti-Islam film will lead to further persecution at home, particularly as "Innocence of Muslims" was apparently produced by a Coptic Christian film-maker in the United States.

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