Cairo: An Egyptian court Tuesday upheld a one-year- jail sentence against Muslim researcher Islam Al Behery convicted of blasphemy in a case that has raised concerns about free expression in the country.
The Appeals Court in South Cairo made the decision after rejecting an appeal filed by Al Behery against the sentence given to him earlier. The case is related to the content of a TV programme he used to host on the private TV station Al Qahera Wal Nas.
In December, another appeals court commuted to one year in jail, a five-year imprisonment sentence handed down to Al Behery in May last year on charges of contempt to religion.
Al Behery, in his mid-thirties, appeared Tuesday at the courtroom wearing a blue uniform, the outfits of convicted inmates in Egypt.
The latest ruling can still be appealed at Egypt’s top appeals court whose decision will be final.
The verdict against Al Behery has drawn massive criticism in Egypt, prompting a campaign calling for his release even through a presidential pardon.
Critics have said the sentence violated the freedom of thought and expression enshrined in the Egyptian constitution.
In his now-suspended programme, Al Behery questioned the credibility of some widely accepted sources of the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) sayings, the second major reference to Islamic jurisprudence after the Quran.
Al Behery, casting himself as a reformist, has repeatedly said that his aim is to spread religious enlightenment by providing a modern interpretation of writings by early Muslim scholars without taking their legacy for granted.
Egypt’s leading Sunni Islamic institution, Al Azhar, has accused Al Behery of inciting sectarian strife and raising doubts about basic tenets of Islam.
Al Azhar has also accused him of insulting revered heads of the Islamic schools of thought.
Tuesday’s ruling came a week after another court sentenced prominent Egyptian writer Fatima Naoot to three years in prison on similar charges.