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Egypt: Court Sentences TV Show Host to Five Years of Imprisonment

(June 4, 2015) On May 31, 2015, an Egyptian court of first instance found television show host Islam El-Beheiry guilty of insulting the religion of Islam under article 98(f) of the Penal Code. Article 98(f) provides that confinement for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years or a fine of not less than EGP500 (about US$66) and not exceeding EGP1,000 will be the penalty inflicted on whoever makes use of religion in propagating, either verbally, in writing, or by any other means, extreme ideas for the purpose of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity. The court sentenced El-Beheiry to five years of imprisonment. (Islam El-Beheiry Sentenced to Five Years in Prison, CAIRO POST (May 31, 2015).)

In April 2015, Al Azhar (the main religious institution in Egypt) had filed a petition against El-Beheiry to suspend his program, claiming that the show insults the fundamentals of Islam. The petition also accused the show’s host of deliberately criticizing religious symbols and influencing Muslims to doubt their beliefs. On May 19, 2015, Egypt’s State Litigation Authority had rejected the petition submitted by Al Azhar. (George Sadek, Egypt: State Litigation Authority Rejects Request to Suspend a TV Show, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 22, 2015).)

Criminal Procedure System

Under the Egyptian Code of Criminal Procedure, the recent court decision is not final. Defendant El-Beheiry has a legal right to appeal the decision before a court of appeal. The courts of first instance, whose adjudicatory panels consist of one judge, are responsible for adjudicating misdemeanors. The courts of appeal panels consist of three judges: a chief justice and two assistants. Their mission is to review decisions related to misdemeanors and civil matters issued by courts of first instance. The courts apply civil and criminal codes modeled primarily on the French Napoleonic codes; therefore, there is no jury system. (Legal Research Guide: Egypt (last updated Jan. 23, 2015), Law Library of Congress website.)

El-Beheiry can also file a petition before the Court of Cassation, requesting a retrial, if the court of appeal renders a decision that is not in his favor. The Court of Cassation is the highest judicial body in the Egyptian court system. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Court of Cassation has the authority to scrutinize the decision of a criminal court. The Court of Cassation will void a sentence if it finds that there was a breach of law during the trial process or in the interpretation of the Criminal Code by the lower court judges and will return the case to the criminal court to be adjudicated by different judges. The prosecution, as well as the defense, has the authority to appeal a decision of the criminal court. (Code of Criminal Procedure, 1937 (as last amended by Law No. 95, 2003), art. 446, Mohamoon-Montada website (in Arabic).)