Detention of Suez Canal University student Sherif Gaber Abdel Azim, who is being investigated for contempt of religion, was renewed on Tuesday for 15 days.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights both condemned the decision to keep the student in detention in a joint statement on Tuesday.
An arrest warrant was issued for Abdel Azim on 26 October and he was detained for four days pending investigations after standing before the public prosecution. After the four days ended, his detention was renewed for 15 days on 30 October.
He allegedly created a Facebook group called “atheists” and had been questioned by university administration in April following complaints filed by fellow students.
The two NGOs said it started in April when the student was referred to the disciplinary board after he had a religious discussion with a college professor. Investigations with the disciplinary board were eventually suspended.
However, students gathered signatures and handed them to the university chairman, prompting him to file a complaint against Abdel Azim.
Investigations and trials for contempt of religion have dramatically increased since 2011.
Writer Karam Saber is currently challenging a May 2013 court decision sentencing him in absentia to five years in prison for contempt of religion and defamation over a short story collection entitled “Where Is God?”
Last year, blogger Alber Saber was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “contempt of the Muslim and Christian religions” after prosecutors accused him of starting Facebook pages that offend both God and the Muslim and Christian religions. Alber, an open atheist, paid EGP 1,000 for bail and filed an appeal before leaving the country.
The joint statement by AFTE and EIPR said: “The continued trial of citizens for expressing their opinion in religious matters and issues is considered a reinforcement to massive restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt.”
They added that they hold the state responsible for any psychological harm that may happen to Abdel Azim and called for all charges against him to be dropped.
AFTE and EIPR stressed the importance of cancelling provisions, whether in the constitution or in the law, that criminalise criticising religions and said that expressing opinions is a “fundamental right” stipulated in all international conventions and treaties.