The Gamaliya Criminal Court in Cairo sentenced Sayed Youssef to one year in prison on Tuesday, on charges of contempt of the Islamic religion. The defendant was accused of attempting to burn copies of Sahih al-Bukhari.
The case dates back to March when Youssef organized a protest in front of Al-Azhar with the intent to burn books of Islamic Heritage which are considered by some to promote violence. Particularly Sahih al-Bukhari, an Islamic book documenting sayings and traditions attributed to the Prophet Mohamed compiled by the Persian scholar Mohamed al-Bukhari, which is considered to be one of the most trusted collections of Hadith.
Youssef’s lawyer, Adel Ramadan, told Mada Masr that the case was filed after his client “stood outside Al-Azhar with copies of al-Bukhari’s book and tried to burn them, until security personnel there apprehended him and handed him over to the Gamaliya Police Station, which subsequently referred him to prosecution.”
Ramadan stated that his client was then referred to the Gamaliya Criminal Court, which sentenced him to one year in prison. He clarified that Youssef has been sentenced on three separate criminal charges, including contempt of the Islamic religion, desecrating a holy book and sedition against a religious sect.
The lawyer explained, “during the first two stages of litigation we argued for the unconstitutionality of Article 98 (f) of the Penal Code, upon which the charge of contempt of religion was based. However, in both stages the court moved to convict my client.” He added that following Tuesday’s verdict, the penalty of imprisonment was enforced and Youssef was arrested once again, until his LE1,000 bail was paid.
Article 98 (f) of Egypt’s Penal Code, also known as the blasphemy law, stipulates a six month to five year prison sentence, or a fine of LE 500 to LE 1,000, for individuals accused of propagating extremist thought with the aim of instigating sedition, disdain or contempt of religion towards any of the Abrahamic faiths, or with the aim of harming national security and peace.
Ramadan told Mada Masr “we presented the court with a lengthy memo specifying several legal precedents in which this same charge was found to be unconstitutional, and when similar charges were found to be based on unconstitutional provisions which are enforced according to the whims of the judicial and executive authorities.”
“We have also called on Al-Azhar Islamic Research Center to review the validity of sayings contained in Sahih al-Bukhari, and whether the text should be classified as sacrosanct like the Quran or the Bible,” the lawyer added.
Members of Parliament Nadia Henry, Mohamed Zakariya Moheddin and Mona Mounir filed a draft law to the assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Committee in June of this year with hopes of annulling Article 89 (f), contending that it is loosely worded and widely enforceable, adding that it can be utilized to roll back freedoms of thought and expression. However, officials from the Ministry of Justice rejected their proposal and issued a warning to the MPs of the committee “to beware” of the proposed law, and refuse to pass it.
Local and international human rights organizations have long condemned provisions and laws which criminalize the defamation of religion in Egypt. A statement issued by Human Rights Watch in June 2014 argued that such legislation harms the right to free expression as is enshrined in Articles 64, 65 and 67 of the Egyptian Constitution of 2014.