Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Court upholds blasphemy charge

Ahmed Morsy reports on reaction to the three-year prison sentence for contempt of religion handed last week to poet Fatma Naoot

Al-Ahram Weekly

Writer Fatima Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison and fined LE20,000 after being found guilty of contempt of religion on 26 January.

The case began in December 2014 when a group of lawyers filed a complaint against the ex-parliamentary candidate, accusing her of showing “contempt of Islam and mocking Islamic ritual”.

In October 2014, Naoot wrote a Facebook post in which she described the Islamic ritual of sacrificing animals on Eid Al-Adha as the “greatest massacre committed by human beings”.

“The yearly massacre occurs,” she continued, “because a good man once had a nightmare about his good son, and although the nightmare has passed for the good man and his son, the [sheep] pay their lives as a price for that holy nightmare.”

Under Egyptian law, insulting Abrahamic religions is an offence.

During investigations, Naoot admitted that she had written the Facebook post but denied any intention to insult Islam. She argued that what she had written was intended to be humorous.

Naoot responded to her sentence with sarcasm. On her Facebook page, she posted a message thanking “the kind judiciary of Egypt”.

In another post, she wrote: “What saddens me is that two great revolutions have failed to put Egypt on the path of enlightenment. The light that I used to see at the end of the tunnel, and which I invited my reader to share, has now turned into fog.”

In a telephone interview with ON TV channel following the verdict, she said: “I have no problem with being jailed. I consider it an opportunity for meditation and creativity.”

The day after her sentencing, however, Naoot appealed the verdict.

Rights organisations have repeatedly voiced concern over the progress of Naoot’s trial. Following her referral to court in January 2015, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a statement expressing solidarity with Naoot and arguing that the case should never have been referred to trial.

Naoot says Minister of Culture Helmi Al-Nemnem was among the first to express his support for her following last week’s verdict. “As a minister and writer, Al-Nemnem has a long history of defending intellectuals in cases related to blasphemy,” Naoot told ONTV channel.

The Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee denounced the verdict in a statement issued last week.

“The sentence is a clear violation of the constitution, which prohibits imprisonment in publishing cases. It is an extension of a long series of verdicts targeting intellectuals whose only crime is to express their views,” the statement said. The committee also demanded an immediate end to custodial sentences for publishing cases.

Article 65 of the constitution states: “Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed. Every person shall have the right to express his/her opinion verbally, in writing, through imagery, or by any other means of expression and publication.”

Article 67 continues: “Freedom of artistic and literary creativity is guaranteed. The State shall encourage arts and literature, sponsor creative artists and writers and protect their productions, and provide the means necessary for achieving this end. No lawsuit may be initiated or filed to stop or confiscate any artistic, literary or intellectual works, or against their creators except by the Public Prosecutor. No freedom restricting sanction may be inflicted for crimes committed because of the publicity of artistic, literary or intellectual product.”

“There is a tendency on the part of the state to suppress dissenting views and restrict freedom of expression and opinion,” said lawyer and rights activists Negad Al-Borae.

“Even if Naoot made a mistake the sentence against her should not be a three-year jail term. Nor should TV host and religious researcher Islam Al-Beheiri have received a one-year sentence for expressing his opinion.”

In December, Al-Beheiri, presenter of the “With Islam” TV show, was imprisoned for one year after appealing an earlier, five-year sentence for contempt of religion.

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