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Appeal against Fatima Naoot sentence dropped, another appeal to be filed soon

Poet Fatima Naoot’s appeal against her three-year prison sentence was dropped on Thursday, but another appeal will filed in the next few days, her lawyer Sherif Adib told Mada Masr.

The appeal was dropped because Naoot and other lawyers were not present during the court session, according to Adib, who added that he would file another appeal in the next 10 days and set a date for another appeal hearing.

Adib dismissed reports published by various news websites claiming that Naoot’s appeal was rejected by the court, and thus her prison sentence was now final. But Mahmoud Othman, a lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), explained to Mada Masr that whether Naoot’s appeal was rejected or dropped, the result is the same: her sentence will now be upheld.

Naoot is legally entitled to be present before the court during the upcoming appeal session, Othman added, but “the problem with today’s decision is that the sentence was upheld, which means Naoot must be detained until the next appeal is scheduled.”

However, the poet announced on Thursday that she has just arrived in Toronto, Canada to attend a conference organized by Egyptian-Canadians. “Simply, I had to travel, and because the conference was at the same time as the appeal hearing, the appeal was dropped because my attendance was obligatory. My lawyers will present another appeal at the right time,” she said.

Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison and an LE20,000 fine in January for “contempt of religion” and “insulting Islam” due to remarks she made on Facebook in October 2014 criticizing the ritual sacrifice of animals during Eid al-Adha. The Islamic religious holiday commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God through the sacrifice of livestock, and is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

“Millions of innocent creatures will be driven to the most horrible massacre committed by humans for 10 and a half centuries … A massacre which is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son,” she wrote, according to Reuters.

Naoot’s sentence comes amid a wave of similar court cases against intellectuals and artists. Preacher and researcher Islam al-Behairy was sentenced to one year in prison for contempt of religion and insulting Islam for his contentious views of Islamic heritage and jurisprudence that run counter to the views of Al-Azhar, the country’s largest Islamic institution. 

International organizations such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch have criticized Egypt’s blasphemy laws, saying they curtail freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. Critics called for abolishing Article 98 of the Penal Code, which stipulates that insulting the Abrahamic faiths and the propagation of atheism in words, writing or other means is punishable by sentences of up to five years in prison and/or fines of up to LE1,000.

In the strictest implementation of the law, three Coptic teens were handed five-year prison sentence for insulting the Islamic religion, with the fourth defendant sent to a disciplinary institution.

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