CAIRO — Egyptian prosecutors referred to trial Tuesday a well-known radical Islamist who tore up an English copy of the Bible during a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.
The case against Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah is a rare example of Egypt's blasphemy laws — often condemned by rights groups as restrictive of freedom— used against someone who allegedly insulted a religion other than Islam.
Abdullah, also known as Abu Islam, was filmed during a protest outside the embassy two weeks ago as he stood before the crowd and ripped up the holy book. "Next time I will urinate on it," he says in another video. Both videos were posted online.
The subject of the protest, the film "Innocence of Muslims," has enraged many Muslims for its portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. At least 51 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been killed in violence linked to protests over the film, which also has renewed debate over freedom of expression in the Middle East, U.S. and in Europe.
Contempt towards "heavenly" religions — a term usually taken to include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — is punishable by up to five years in Egypt. But lawyers and rights groups say the definition of contempt of religion is vague and has been used frequently against critics of Islam only, not other faiths.
In the wake of the anti-Islam video, many clerics and politicians in Egypt have called for an international law criminalizing contempt for religion. Egypt's new government, headed by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, may be under pressure to show that it is applying Egypt's contempt law evenhandedly.