Amed Sherwan (22) is vocal. Time and again he raises his voice and expresses criticism of Islam in Germany. He is a refugee and ex-Muslim from Iraq.
In December, Sherwan published a photo montage with a waving rainbow flag as a symbol. The picture shows him and Mohamed Hisham (29), another activist from Egypt, kissing in front of the Islamic shrine Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to draw attention to homophobia in the Muslim community.
As a result, Sherwan was threatened with death and Facebook deleted not only a post in which he defended the photo, but also his profile. Sherwan did not want to accept this: He brought an action against Facebook in court. He wanted to know the reasons for the blocking and to make an example of freedom of expression. In fact, Facebook suffered a defeat in court on Wednesday.
The BILD newspaper reports on Sherwan’s fight for freedom of expression. A story of TORTURE, FLIGHT and FREEDOM around a photo montage.
Sherwan is excited because the next day is the trial date at Flensburg District Court.
“I posted a photomontage of me kissing with an activist, a friend of mine, Mohamed Hisham, in front of a photo background of the Kaaba in Mecca. With the photo, I wanted to show my solidarity with LGBTQ people in the Muslim community. I wanted to draw attention to the issue of being gay in the Muslim context. Because of that, I received quite a lot of death threats, most of them were from Pakistan. They also reported my profile. Then Facebook removed my post (defending his post, ed.) and deleted my Instagram profile completely,” Sherwan tells BILD.
After his lawyer asked Facebook about this blocking, Sherwan got his Instagram profile back, which had also been blocked, as well as the post on Facebook. Nevertheless, with the support of the Giordano Bruno Foundation and the Institute for Worldview Law (ifw), he filed a lawsuit against Facebook – in what is known as summary proceedings.
“It’s not just about my account, other activists are also experiencing this. Their platforms are blocked, posts deleted, because other religious persons don’t like it and they feel hurt in their religious feelings,” Sherwan tells BILD. He thinks it is problematic when large digital corporations like Facebook take action against a post based on the number of messages alone, without properly checking it. This, he says, is an attack on freedom of expression.
The 22-year-old blogger started his struggle in his home country Iraq when he was 15 years old. Because of his criticism of Islam, he had to go to prison as a minor in Iraq. Sherwan grew up in a Muslim family in Kurdish northern Iraq.
“I was very devout as a child. By chance, I saw texts critical of religion on the internet, which seemed like blasphemy to me at the time because I was a devout Muslim. I kept reading and that was a new world to me, it made more sense to me than Islam,” Sherwan describes his experience to BILD. “When I questioned my faith, criticised it even in public, my father reported me to the police under pressure from neighbours. I ended up in prison at 15 and was tortured – with all kinds of methods: beatings, whippings, electric shocks.”
Due to his age and a dedicated lawyer, his case received greater media attention. After his uncle paid bail, Sherwan was released.
“After that, it was not safe for me in Iraqi Kurdistan. I could not live there as an infidel, so I had to leave my country later.”
Sherwan came to Germany at the end of 2014, he was 15.
A blog and social media are Sherwan’s platform to question Islam.
“I have actually also experienced physical violence here in Germany after I showed up at a demo of a Palestinian association in Flensburg with a photo of two men kissing – Israelis and Jews. I was then beaten in the middle of the street and had to go to hospital,” Sherwan recalls.
Sherwan has already experienced a lot and wanted to share his story with everyone in Germany. In October 2020, his book “Kafir Allah sei Dank bin ich Atheist” (Thank Allah I’m an Atheist) was published, which he wrote together with Katrine Hoop.
Because of his kissing action, Mohamed Hisham, participant of this photo montage, is on the run again. He could no longer live in his refugee center: He received insults and threats from other refugees. Once he was even beaten up.
“Because of the photo, I was tortured in my refugee home, I had to leave the center. I also experienced so much hate from people because of this photo,” Hisham tells BILD.
He is also a well-known blogger, from Egypt. He fled to Germany in 2019 and later met Sherwan.
Not only in front of the holy Kaaba in Mecca did Sherwan make this photomontage, but also in front of other religious symbols.
“I posted this photo montage in front of different religious places, there is not a single death threat in the others. But when I get death threats, they are from Muslims,” Sherwan says.
On Wednesday, Sherwan is sitting with his lawyer Joachim Steinhöfel in courtroom A 409 in the summary proceedings against Facebook Ireland Ltd. The original aim was to obtain an injunction against Facebook. But because Sherwan had already achieved his goal, he and Facebook declared the matter closed. The court only had to decide on the costs of the proceedings. In such a case, it makes a prognosis as to which party would probably have lost the legal dispute.
The result: Facebook bears the costs of the proceedings.
Sherwan considers it a victory because Facebook could not properly justify why they blocked his profile. He wanted to achieve exactly the same thing, that his posts would not be considered violations of Facebook’s community rules.
“I think the court ruling against Facebook’s censorship is a win for freedom of opinion and speech and a direct implementation of the values of enlightenment,” his friend Hisham comments to BILD about the decision.