Egypt comedy star did not insult Islam, court rules

CAIRO Wed Sep 12, 2012 8:53pm BST

Actor Adel Imam attends the Awards Show and Closing Night Red Carpet and Screening of 'The First Grader' during the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Doha October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous

Actor Adel Imam attends the Awards Show and Closing Night Red Carpet and Screening of 'The First Grader' during the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Doha October 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Dabbous

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian appeals court on Wednesday quashed the conviction of the Arab world's most famous comic actor, Adel Imam, on a charge of insulting Islam in his films and plays, rejecting a case brought by a lawyer with Islamist affiliations.

Imam, 72, has frequently poked fun at figures of authority and politicians of all stripes, making him the target of several court actions during a four-decade career. His more serious films dealt with the rise of Islamist militancy.

He did not appear in court to defend himself against the latest accusations, made by lawyer Asran Mansour.

Mansour accused Imam of offending Islam and its symbols by poking fun at beards and the galabiya, a loose-fitting garment often worn by hardline Islamists.

A judge found Imam guilty in February and gave him a three-month prison sentence, which he appealed. The court overturned the first verdict on Wednesday, state news agency MENA said. Imam was not sent to prison after the initial verdict.

The court's written verdict said Imam "did not commit any act that is inherently contemptuous of the Islamic religion, and the (subject) matter was about depicting wrong behaviour patterns in society," according to a court source.

The appeals court decision could be appealed but another verdict would take years to issue.

Legal cases against directors, actors, artists and intellectuals accused of failing to respect religious authority are relatively common in Egypt.

But the latest Imam trial had special resonance for liberals and leftists alarmed by the emergence of Islamists as a dominant political force since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the holding of free elections.

Many have voiced fear that new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi will stifle social and cultural freedoms in the name of religion. Mursi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood deny any such intention.

(Reporting by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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