On Jan. 26, an Egyptian court sentenced journalist Fatima Naaot to three years in jail and a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,500) for “defaming religions.” The judgment reflected a “return to hisbah lawsuits, which are a threat to freedom of opinion, expression, thought, belief and human rights,” said a Jan. 27 statement by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. Hisbah — meaning “accountability” — is an Islamic doctrine involving the ruler or government’s duty to promote what is right and prevent wrong.
Naaot was accused of contempt for Islam and mocking the Islamic al-Adhiya (sacrifices) ritual. She had described the annual Islamic holiday of sacrifice — Eid al-Adha — in an October 2014 Facebook post as “a massacre committed because of the startling nightmare one of the righteous ones had about his son,” in a reference to the story of Abraham in the Quran.
Mahmoud Othman, a legal scholar at the Institution of Freedom of Thought and Expression, said hisbah lawsuits are based on Article 3 of the Code of Procedure, which allows anyone to file a lawsuit against any creative work by an artist, writer or public figure as long as the plaintiff has an interest in it. Also, the lawsuit must be aimed at avoiding imminent damage or at documenting evidence. Such lawsuits are submitted to the public prosecutor, who determines their merit. Read more