CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court sentenced a blogger to three years in jail with hard labor on Saturday for "spreading false news" after he said about 45 percent of married Egyptian women have the readiness for "immorality" and to cheat on their husbands.
The court said that Taymour el-Sobki's comments on a talk show in December would harm the public peace and damage the public interest. He can still appeal the sentence.
El-Sobky faced a backlash from other TV talk show hosts and civilians who filed complaints to public prosecutors accusing him of insulting Egyptian women.
Public prosecutors, who have the right to vet such complaints and to choose which ones to pursue, charged el-Sobky and took him to court on these grounds.
"We can criticize or reject the comments he made, but he did not commit a crime," said prominent rights lawyer Gamal Eid.
Under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, authorities have waged crackdowns against Islamists, then left-wing activists and finally against broader dissent. But lately, many activists say harassment and threats have broadened even to people with no connection to politics or activism.
Artists, writers, and intellectuals have expressed fear over the future of free speech and creativity in Egypt following a two-year sentence handed by an appeals court last month against author Ahmed Naji for violating "public modesty" through publishing an excerpt of his novel containing a sex scene in an Egyptian literary magazine.
Naji's detention in a Cairo prison following the sentencing hit Egypt's artistic and intellectual community hard as it followed recent sentences handed to the TV presenter and researcher Islam Behery, who is serving a year-long prison sentence for "defaming religious symbols" and the writer Fatma Naoot, who has appealed a three-year sentence for defaming Islam.
Eid said el-Sobki's case has similar attributes with the expulsion from parliament of Tawfiq Okasha earlier this month as a response to him meeting Israel's ambassador to Egypt.
"The two issues seem to be unrelated, but they both share the same attribute .... Okasha did not break the law," said Eid. "The two incidents were handled outside the realm of the law."
The cases, Eid said, are an example of how "it is not the law, but it is pressure and public opinion, and rallying around someone, that acquits or incriminates him."
"Unfortunately these are not isolated cases," said Eid. "They come in the context of that the state itself violates the law day and night, and implements it haphazardly."