Hard-line Egypt cleric sentenced for burning Bible

Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — A hard-line Muslim cleric received an 11-year suspended sentence Sunday for tearing up and burning a Bible, Egypt's official news agency said.

Cairo's Nasr City court sentenced Ahmed Abdullah and his son was given a suspended sentence of eight years over the same incident, the Middle East News Agency reported. The two were ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($700). The ruling can be appealed.

Abdullah ripped up a Bible and burned it during a Sept. 11 rally by ultraconservative Salafi Muslims in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, protesting an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.

It was a rare prosecution over attacks on faiths other than Islam. Over the past two years, attacks by extremist Muslims against followers of other religions, mostly Christians, have been on the increase.

According to Egyptian law, showing contempt toward Christianity, Islam and Judaism known as "heavenly" religions is a crime. Lawyers and rights groups complain the definition of contempt of religion is vague and has been used most often against critics of Islam.

Blasphemy charges were not uncommon in Egypt under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, but there has been a surge in such cases in recent months. The trend is widely seen as a reflection of the growing power and confidence of Islamists, after election victories by the Muslim Brotherhood and strong showings by the Salafis, who practice a form of the religion as they believe it existed around the seventh century.

Writers, activists and a television comedian have recently been charged with blasphemy, but Christians seem to be the favorite target of Islamist prosecutors. Abdullah's case brought a rare sentence against a Muslim cleric.

In one of the most recent cases, a Coptic teacher was sentenced to pay a fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,000) for insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad while teaching.

Abdullah, also known as Abu Islam, has become known for hate speech against Coptic Christians in his preaching. Last year, he launched new Islamic TV channel that is run primarily by women covered from head to toe with only their eyes showing. He is a frequent guest on other TV channels.

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