Egypt's Bible Burning Cleric Sentenced to 11 Years

A court in Egypt sentenced a Muslim cleric, who is known for his hate speeches against Coptic Christians, to 11 years in jail for tearing up and burning a Bible during a protest against an anti-Islam film outside the U.S. embassy last year.

An Egyptian misdemeanors court in Cairo sentenced Islamist preacher Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Islam, on Sunday for insulting religion and burning the Bible, according to Ahram Online.

In addition, the preacher has been asked to pay a fine of 3,000 Egyptian pounds, or $430. The court also sentenced the cleric's son to eight years in prison and asked him to pay a fine of 2,000 Egyptian pounds, or $286, for taking part in the Bible burning.

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However, the sentences will be suspended pending appeal, the news website said.

Abdullah, who heads the Umma and Mariya satellite TV channels, publicly burned a copy of the Bible during a demonstration on Sept. 11, 2012, in front of the U.S. embassy. It was to protest against the anti-Islam film, "Innocence of Muslims," which was produced in the United States and set off anti-American protests across the Muslim world – it was later found that the film was produced by a Californian born in Egypt's Coptic Christian community. The cleric also announced at the protest that he planned to send his grandson to urinate on the Bible.

The verdict came as a surprise because it is mostly Christians who are prosecuted and sentenced by courts in Egypt on mostly false charges of blasphemy.

A court recently sentenced a Coptic teacher to pay a fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,000) on charges of blasphemy.

The country's Coptic Christians, who account for at least 10 percent of the population of 82 million, have faced numerous attacks after the ouster of President Mubarak over two years ago. Mubarak, an authoritarian leader, had kept Islamists under tight control.

Article 44 of the Egyptian constitution, signed into law in December 2012 by President Mohamed Morsi, who is from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, carries a provision for an anti-blasphemy law. The article states, "Insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets shall be prohibited."

The Coptic Church announced last November the withdrawal of all church representatives from the 100-member constituent assembly lest the draft constitution had the church's stamp of approval on it. Non-Islamist parties also pulled out, decrying marginalization.

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