A Cairo misdemeanor court dismissed on Thursday a complaint against Egyptian comedy actor Adel Imam and other artists for insulting religion, days after another one sentenced him to jail on the same charge.
The court told the Islamist lawyer who brought the complaint that he had no standing to bring charges against the five artists, who include authors and directors, judicial sources said.
The lawyer said they defamed Islam in their works, according to AFP.
On Tuesday, another court upheld a three-month prison sentence for Imam, one of the region’s most famous actors, after a February conviction in absentia.
Imam, 71, who has acted in several movies critical of violent Islamist radicals, told AFP on Tuesday he would appeal the verdict and remains free on bail.
“Many people support me,” he said, while declining to comment further.
Hardline Islamists have recourse to misdemeanor courts to punish people they say insult Islam.
Egypt’s liberals, leftists and others are worried that Islamists who have emerged as the dominant political force in post-Mubarak Egypt will stifle social and cultural freedoms.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the court earlier on Thursday to support Imam. “We want freedom of creativity” and “No to prosecuting creative artists,” chanted the crowd, which included directors, producers and actors, according to Reuters.
“This is an unjust case against Imam and a stifling of freedom of expression,” actress Jihan Fadel said. “If Imam’s appeal is not accepted, this will pave the way for more obstacles in the path of all creative people in Egypt.”
But some passers-by shouted “Jail Imam,” while two men yelled at the crowd “Imam has always been the enemy of Islam.” Some opponents of the actor argued outside the court with his supporters. His backers had banners saying “Art is not heresy.”
The case against Imam, whose presence in any move or theatre cast virtually guarantees a box-office hit, was brought by Asran Mansour, a lawyer with ties to Islamist groups.
The sentence against Imam was issued a few weeks after Islamists swept most seats in a parliamentary vote.
Mansour accused the actor of offending Islam and its symbols, including beards and the galabiya, a loose-fitting garment often worn by hardline Islamists, the newspaper said.
The galabiya robe is also traditional dress for Egyptians, whether Muslims or Christians, in rural areas.
Among films and plays targeted by the lawyer were the movie “Morgan Ahmed Morgan” and the play “al-Zaeem” (The Leader), the report said.
Imam was also fined 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($170), a court document showed.
Court cases against directors, actors, artists and intellectuals accused of failing to respect religious authority are relatively common in Egypt.
Magy Morgan, one of Imam’s supporters, said outside the court: “The revolution was fought for freedom of expression and to see a case like this is a disgrace.”
Last year, a Cairo court threw out a case against Coptic Christian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, after an Islamist lawyer accused him of insulting the religion by posting on Twitter a cartoon of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Islamic garb.