A misdemeanor court reduced the five-year jail sentence of preacher and researcher Islam al-Beheiry on Monday, giving him just one year instead for his conviction on charges of insulting Islam, the Reuters-affiliated Aswat Masreya reported.
The same court sentenced Beheiry to five years in May after al-Azhar and a group of lawyers filed two lawsuits against Beheiry amid mounting controversy over his TV show “With Islam” aired on the private channel al-Qahira wal Nas.
Immediately after his sentence, Beheiry slammed the court decision on his Facebook account. “I’m sentenced to one year. I offered every good thing to the religion and the people, and now I’m sentenced to one year,” he said. “Egypt is the country of injustice”.
Beheiry was taken to Khalifa police station before being transferred to Tora prison early on Tuesday.
The privately owned newspaper Youm7 quoted Beheiry’s lawyer, Gameel Saeid, as saying that a Giza misdemeanor court had earlier acquitted Beheiry on similar charges, and that it is illegal to have two conflicting court rulings by the same court. Saeid said that he will appeal the verdict in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court to look into the conflicting verdicts.
However, lawyers filing the lawsuit against Beheiry said that their accusations against the contentious preacher were different. They explained, according to Youm 7, that Beheiry was acquitted of charges related to insulting major Islamic scholars and doubting the sayings of the companions of Prophet Mohamed. However, in the lawsuit for which he was convicted, Beheiry was accused of insulting Islam, disrespecting God and misinterpreting the Quran.
The preacher has provoked debate, since his show first aired in July 2013. He reportedly disseminates religious views that run counter to the core beliefs propagated by Azhar, the region’s official Islamic authority.
For instance, Beheiry has stated that the Quran should not be read literally, but rather interpreted according to the times in which religious followers live. He has also cast doubt on certain sayings that most Islamic scholars have attributed to the Prophet and hold as sacred, as well as questioning women’s rights in Islam, and the belief that those who insult the Prophet should be killed.
Beheiry continuously reiterated his intentions of renewing Islamic jurisprudence in order not to allow Islamic teachings to be a continued source of extremist views.
Beheiry’s show was canceled after al-Qahira wal Nas channel conceded to pressure from Azhar in April. Azhar filed a lawsuit to cancel the show and accused Beheiry of insulting religion, slandering Al-Azhar, propagating extremist ideology, insulting Islamic scholars, and attempting to undermine national security.
In an interview with TV channel al-Qahira al-Youm immediately after his conviction, Beheiry said that he was being tried again in the same case with the same plaintiffs, which is a breach of legal standards.
“I want to say thank you to President Sisi, and thank you to his religious revolution. I thank all state officials and freedom of expression in Egypt, and I thank those who apply the law and the constitution for what they did to someone like me who gave his best to humanity, religion and Egypt.”
In January 2015, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a religious revolution in a speech at Azhar commemorating the birth of Prophet Mohamed. In his speech, Sisi urged Azhar scholars to reform many misunderstood religious traditions that “tarnished the image of Islam”, instructing the Endowments Ministry and Azhar to prepare a plan for the desired reforms.
“Will the 1.5 billion Muslims kill the seven billion so that they can live? It’s impossible, we need a religious revolution,” he said.
However, a few days later, the president appeared to back-track on his demand for religious reforms, explaining that the reform of religious discourse is not the responsibility of individuals but of religious institutions, referring to Azhar and Islamic scholars around the world.