Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Blasphemy charge upheld

A court has upheld a three-year sentence given to a poet for blasphemy, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

A Cairo misdemeanour court on Thursday upheld a three-year prison sentence and a LE20,000 fine given to writer and poet Fatma Naoot for “contempt of religion” after her appeal was rejected.

Naoot and her lawyer Sherif Adeeb were absent during Thursday’s court session which, according to Adeeb, was why the appeal was dropped.

Naoot published a statement on her official Facebook hours before Thursday’s court session explaining that she was travelling to Canada to participate in the first Egyptian-Canadian international conference in which several issues, including blasphemy laws and freedom of expression, were to be discussed. “I had to travel, and because the conference was at the same time as the appeal hearing, the appeal was dropped because my attendance was obligatory. My lawyers will present another appeal at the right time,” Naoot wrote.

Adeeb told the press that Naoot will appeal again in 10 days. “If the court rejects the appeal, Naoot will appeal the sentence at the Court of Cassation,” Adeeb said.

On 26 January, Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison and fined LE20,000 after being found guilty of contempt of religion. The day after her sentencing, Naoot appealed the verdict.

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 rituals”. In October 2014, Naoot wrote a Facebook post in which she described the Islamic sacrificing of animals during 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 with their lives as a price for that holy nightmare.”Under Egyptian law, insulting Abrahamic religions is an offence.

During an investigation, 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 sarcastically to her January sentence. 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 (2011 and 2013) 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 readers to share, has now turned into fog.”

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.

Moreover, the Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee denounced the initial verdict in a statement issued in January. “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.”

Naoot’s sentence comes amid a wave of similar court cases against intellectuals and artists. Preacher and researcher Islam Al-Beheiri was sentenced in December 2015 to one year in prison for contempt of religion and insulting Islam for his views on Islamic heritage.

In February, three Christian Coptic teens were handed five-year jail terms for insulting Islam. A fourth defendant was sent to a disciplinary institution.

The defendants, aged between 16 and 17, had made a video mocking the Islamic State (IS) and use some words that are used in Muslim prayers, that was later posted online by their teacher, causing a backlash in their local neighbourhood. They were handed the maximum penalty for blasphemy.

There are demands that Article No 98 of the penal code, which allows imprisonment on the sometimes vague charge of contempt of religion, should be abolished, noting that it has also been used to suppress freedom of expression.

International organisations such as New York-based Human Rights Watch have criticised Egypt’s blasphemy laws, saying they curtail freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution.

Critics have called for abolishing Article 98 which stipulates that insulting the Abrahamic faiths and the propagation of atheism in words, writing or other means is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or fines of up to LE1,000.

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