- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2012

CAIRO (AP) - One of the Arab world’s best known Egyptian comedians has been sentenced to three months in jail for offending Islam, a judge said Thursday, in the latest such case against a high-profile figure, underlining concerns about freedom of expression in Egypt.

The judge confirmed that Adel Imam, a veteran actor who first starred in a play in 1964, was convicted in absentia of insulting the religion.

The judge said Imam can appeal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Tarek el-Shinnawi, an entertainment reporter in Egypt, said that Imam was in Egypt recently filming a television series. Egypt’s Actors’ Syndicate said Imam’s whereabouts are unknown. Imam could not be reached for comment.

The state-run Ahram Online English website reported Thursday he was found guilty for “defaming Islam” in a 2007 movie in which he plays a corrupt businessman who tries to buy a university diploma. The film, Morgan Ahmed Morgan, included a scene with bearded Muslim men wearing traditional Islamic robes. Other reports said the court objected to his use of Islamic symbols in the film and others he has appeared in.

Last month, Egyptian telecommunications and construction tycoon Naguib Sawiris, a founder of the liberal Free Egyptians political party, faced similar charges of defaming Islam after he posted pictures of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing Islamic clothing on Twitter.

The cases have added to concerns that Islamists who dominate the new Egyptian parliament might use their powers to try to stifle freedom of expression. Imam, 71, has acted in dozens of films and 10 plays in a career that spans nearly 50 years. It is not clear what other films were also named in the case.

In one of his most popular roles, Imam played an Arab dictator in the 1998 satirical play called el-Zaeem. The play has since been aired on Arabic satellite television stations across the Arab world, bypassing censorship and gaining popularity through its comedic take of a tyrannical figure.

In the 1980’s, Imam was sentenced to three months in jail for defaming lawyers in a film. That ruling was later overturned.

Long a beloved figured in Egypt, Imam lost popularity among Egyptian protesters for vocalizing support for Hosni Mubarak during last year’s 18-day revolt, which resulted in the toppling of the longtime ruler.

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