The discussions in the House of Representatives over the penal code article predominantly used in charges of “contempt of religion” are ongoing as the state’s religious institutions are expected to weigh in on keeping or amending the article.
Parliament decided on Sunday to prepare a legal report on article 98 of the penal code following a meeting held by the Legislative Committee.
The Religious Affairs Committee, upon request from the Legislative Committee, requested that Al-Azhar, Dar Al-Ifta, and the Coptic Church submit their opinions on the issue, MP Mohamed Zakria Mohie El-Din told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
Article 98 of the penal code, which punishes blasphemy with a maximum of 5 years in prison and minimum fine of EGP 500, states that punishment is received by “whoever makes use of religion in propagating, either by words, in writing, or in any other means, extreme ideas for the purpose of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity”.
A number of MPs submitted suggestions for abolishing the article.
“We discussed the article in the Legislative Committee of parliament. Some MPs supported cancelling the article as it contradicts with freedoms, but I think the article should stand. A comprehensive memorandum was sent to representatives of religions in Egypt to receive feedback,” Mohie El-Din explained.
The government supports having the article, explained Mohie El-Din, adding that it is not considered a personal freedom to be able to insult religion.
In the same context, parliament’s Human Rights Committee head Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat said that Al-Azhar, Dar El-Ifta, and the Coptic Church’s feedback regarding the aforementioned article will determine its fate. He called on parliament to wait for feedback from the religious institutions before making a decision, which would protect those institutions’ freedom of expression.
Discussion on the aforementioned article came amid public debate over religious freedoms and the use of imprisonment as an oppressive tool against freedom of speech. Several prominent figures inside Egypt have recently come under fire and faced charges for allegedly insulting religion.
In January 2015, writer and former parliamentary candidate Fatima Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison and a EGP 20,000 fine for insulting Islam.
Naoot faced trial after expressing personal views regarding the slaughter rituals carried out during Eid Al-Adha. In a post on her social media page in October 2014, Naoot criticised animal slaughter in reference to the religious tradition of sacrificing sheep, and wrote “Happy massacre, everybody”.
The verdict was issued by a misdemeanour court in Cairo, and is similar to the one issued against Islamic researcher Islam El-Beheiry, who’s appeal against a one-year prison term over similar charges was rejected recently.
El-Beheiry’s trial sparked public controversy, as he received the support of journalists, writers, scholars, and human rights defenders.
A campaign emerged in November 2015, which was recently adopted by the Egyptian Secularist Party, calling for the abolition of charges of religious contempt.