CAIRO: An appeal against one-year prison sentence handed to TV anchorman Islam Beheiry over insulting religion will be considered by court Jan.4, according to media reports Wednesday.
Beheiry has been criticized over his questioning of credibility of sources of Hadith (Prophet Mohammad’s sayings,) the second basic reference for Islamic teachings after the Quran.
His show “With Islam,” used to be aired on private TV channel Al Kahera Wal Nas, was halted, and the channel was sued by the Al-Azhar Institute, the most prestigious Islamic reference in the world; a misdemeanor court annulled the case due to lack of jurisdiction.
A citizen motioned a lawsuit based on penal code against Beheiry over blasphemy, in which he received five years in prison and the sentence was commuted to one year on Tuesday.
“Al-Azhar did not wish Beheiry’s fate”
“Al-Azhar has nothing to do with Islam al-Beheiry’s imprisonment…and [it] did not wish this fate to him or anyone else, we sued the channel not him, and this was preceded by performance that exceeded limits of opinion and expression, which Al-Azhar cannot turn a blind eye to,” Undersecretary of Al-Azhar Abbas Shoman said in press statements quoted by Youm7.
Shoman noted that while Azhar “respects judicial rulings,” “Thoughts should be met with thoughts, which some Azhar youth scholars did in debates with Beheiry.”
The institute is seen as the moderate religious source in the country, and has embarked on initiatives to curb “radical ideology.” It has recently announced forming a scholarly coalition, parallel to Saudi’s military alliance, to combat extremism.
It regarded the content of Beheiry’s show as “destroying of Islamic constants and contempt of the Islamic religion.”
Some Azhar scholars have commented against bringing such cases to courts, calling to face “thoughts if proven mistaken by argument and proof rather than by trials,” said Ahmed Kreema, an Azhar professor in a December 2014 interview with The Cairo Post.
Kreema’s remarks were in light of last year’s accusation of Columnist Fatma Naoot of “insulting religion” for describing the Islamic slaughtering of animals in Sacrifice Feast the “biggest massacre.”
He saw the charge of “insulting Islam” as broad and needs more adjustment in law.
In his appeal, Lawyer Gamil Saeed demanded the halt of the court verdict, delivered Tuesday against Beheiry, since it contradicts another ruling in June that acquitted the presenter of the same charge.
Wave of anger against Beheiry’s jail
A wave of condemnation to Beheiry’s imprisonment overwhelmed social media Tuesday; many called for his pardon, and demanded the state to stop prosecuting intellectuals in violation with the constitution.
On his Twitter account, TV presenter Youssef el-Housseiny said “[w]hat happened with Islam el-Beheiry is backwardness.”
“[If] a thought does not incite for killing and bloodshed, [then] it should be faced with thought,” wrote Activist Wael Ghoneim on his Facebook account. “Suppressing ideas increases its widespread, and jailing [ideas’] owners make them heroes,” he added.
Film Director Khaled Youssef, a recently elected parliamentarian, said “The crisis is not in imprisoning Beheiry…the crisis is that thinking became a crime whose owners are paying its price,” on his Facebook.
“If we could not understand that discussing thoughts only comes with thoughts, then ISIS is not only occupying lands, killing people and raping women, but will remain in minds and consciences if we will be facing thoughts with bars,” TV presenter Lamis el-Hadidy said during her show.
Hadidy referred to Sisi’s previous calls for “religious revolution,” saying “after this verdict, [what the president said] should be erased. How come we renew religious discourse if we will then be jailed?”
“Beheiry went to jail just because he thought and discussed,” she continued, criticizing laws that “leave us for mistaken ideas and approaches inside Al-Azhar.”
Addressing President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, TV presenter Ibrahim Essa said “you can either choose between pardoning Beheiry or not…but this is a responsibility upon which the history will judge you.”
The verdict “confirms that the call for renewal of religious discourse has not gone far beyond official and media rhetoric,” said Isaac Ibrahim, researcher at the Egyptian Imitative for Personal rights in a statement. He said the verdict reveals “real trends of state institutions” regarding freedom of religion, belief, opinion and expression.
The Initiative has spotted some 15 cases of judicial prosecuting since the beginning of the year, with some being considered in courts and others convicted. The toll of cases between 2011 and 2013 reached 48.
This article was modified to add that a citizen has motioned the lawsuit against the TV presenter, and to correct the presenter’s name to Islam Beheiry instead of Islam el-Beheiry.