An Egyptian court has upheld a verdict that convicted the country's most popular comedian of insulting Islam. Adel Iman had played roles in films mocking religious hypocrisy.
The verdict has raised anxiety among liberals about the growing influence of Islamists since the end of Hosni Mubarak's rule.
New York Daily News reports the court sentenced, Imam, 71, one the Arab world's most famous comedians to jail for offending Islam in his films. The court fined the actor $170 and a gave him a three-month suspended sentence, but Imam is expected to appeal. Before the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, convictions under laws criminalizing Islam have been rare.
Imam was found guilty of insulting Islam in his films "The Terrorist" and "Terrorism and Kabab." In the film "The Terrorist," Iman plays a radical Islamist hiding among moderate middle-class. In the movie "Terrorism and Kabab," he castigates a lazy civil servant who pretends to pray to avoid work.
ABC News reports Imam was first convicted in February of "contempt of religion." The case was brought against him by an ultra-conservative lawyer Asran Mansour for the films Imam made in the 1990s. According to Mansour, Imam blasphemed Islam by mocking its symbols such as the beards and the jilbab, a loose-fitting robe Muslims wear.
The New York Times reports Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said there has been an increase in number of such convictions since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. She said: “We are seeing a growing number of convictions." Maroyef said it was “very, very frightening, if this is considered normal.”
A similar case was brought in January against Coptic Christian businessman Naguib Sawiris, by Islamist lawyers after he tweeted a cartoon of Mickey Mouse with a long beard and Minnie Mouse with veiled face. But the case was thrown out.
ABC News reports a group called The Egyptian Creativity Front criticized the ruling and said it would limit the freedom of expression and lead to restriction of art.
While the major Islamist party, the political arm of the Muslim brotherhood, has pledged respect for artistic freedom, the Salafis, a group of more conservative Islamists that won a quarter of seats in the recent parliamentary elections, are opposed to artistic freedom.
Imam's lawyers say they will appeal the verdict, insisting it was given “on the wrong legal basis.” Imam's lawyer Sawat Hussein, said: “My client’s films were certified, not censored, by surveillance authorities before their release to the public."