April 5, 2016

Egyptian court upholds prison sentence for poet convicted of blasphemy



The Court of Cassation in Cairo. Image via Ruth Pollard/Twitter.

In what is only the latest in the intensifying crackdown on freedom of expression in Egypt, a Cairo misdemeanor court has rejected the appeal of a poet and critic sentenced to three years in prison for penning a Facebook post interpreted as blasphemous.

Ahram’s El-Sayed Gamal El-Din reports that Fatma Naoot was convicted in January of blasphemy “on the basis of a Facebook post she wrote in October criticising on ethical grounds the Eid Al-Adha tradition of slaughtering sheep.” Naoot had acknowledged writing the post, but “denied that her aim was to insult Islam.” Her appeal was rejected on Thursday.

As Sudarsan Raghavan explained in an in-depth article in the Washington Post, Naoot was convicted under Article 98 of the Egyptian penal code—a vaguely worded law that “orders a prison sentence of as long as five years and a hefty fine for anyone who insults or strives to hurt other religions, or spreads extremist religious thoughts.” According to critics cited by Raghavan, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has increased use of tactics including a strict application of the blasphemy law “not only to undercut opponents who accuse the government of abandoning Islam,” following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi, but also to “suppress secular middle-class intellectuals.”

Naoot’s post had apparently been written in reaction to an article she had read in a Saudi Arabian newspaper about a boy who had watched his father slaughter a sheep during Eid al-Adha—the Muslim feast honoring Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, as related in religious texts—and then returned home and “mimicked” his father by slitting his sister’s throat.

According to El-Din, Naoot’s next step is to file an appeal in a higher Court of Cassation, though, as she is quoted saying in the Post article, “My enemy is not the sentence, my enemy is not the judge…My enemy is the law.”



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.