Egypt’s Sayeda Zeinab Criminal Court rejected Egyptian poet and writer Fatima Naoot’s appeal against a three-year imprisonment sentence previously handed down to her for “contempt of religion” and mocking an Islamic ritual.
The court’s decision was a result of Naoot’s failure to show up in court, as she is currently in Canada for an international conference.
The writer was put on trial due to statements she made on her Facebook page in October 2014, in which she criticized the Islamic ritual of sacrificing animals for Eid Al-Adha. The annual feast is in commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to slaughter his own son based on orders from God.
Naoot described these rituals, celebrated annually by Muslims around the world, as an annual “massacre” but she later denied that these statements amounted to contempt of religion and emphasized that she is a Muslim herself.
There has been a slew of cases related to “blasphemy” and “contempt of religion” over the past several months, including that of religious researcher and television host Islam El Beheiry, who was sentenced to one year in prison after he stirred controversy with his show, “With Islam.” Al-Azhar, the world’s foremost Islamic teaching institution, accused El Beheiry of broadcasting ideas that contradict the “fundamentals of religion.”
More recently, three Coptic Christian students were sentenced to five years in prison for “contempt of religion,” over a 30-second video in which they were filmed imitating a Muslim prayer.
Egypt’s “contempt of religion” laws have been under stinging criticism from rights groups. Human Rights Watch released a statement in 2014 decrying the law, which the organization said “harms freedom of expression.”
According to Article 98 of the Egyptian constitution, those who “exploit religion in promoting or favoring verbally or in writing or by any other means any extremist ideologies with the aim of provoking sedition, disparaging or contempt of one of the divine religions or any sects belonging to it or harming national unity or social peace” are subject to imprisonment sentences of a minimum of six months and a maximum of five years.
Last month, Member of Parliament Mona Mounir introduced a bill to repeal the controversial law, saying that it is unconstitutional and contradicts articles on freedom of belief and freedom of thought and opinion.