CAIRO – A Cairo court on Saturday ordered the government to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube for 30 days for carrying an anti-Islam film, but the ruling can be appealed and based on precedent may not be enforced.
Judge Hassouna Tawfiq ordered YouTube blocked for carrying the film, which he described as "offensive to Islam and the Prophet (Muhammad)." He made the ruling in the Egyptian capital where the first protests against the film erupted last September before spreading to more than 20 countries, killing more than 50 people.
The 14-minute trailer for the movie "Innocence of Muslims" portrays Muhammad, chief prophet and central figure of Islam, as a religious fraud, womanizer and pedophile. It was produced in the United States by an Egyptian-born Christian who's now a U.S. citizen.
Egypt's new constitution includes a ban on insulting "religious messengers and prophets." Broadly worded, blasphemy laws also were in effect under former President Hosni Mubarak prior to his ouster in a popular revolt two years ago.
Similar orders to censor pornographic websites deemed offensive have not been enforced in Egypt because of high costs associated with technical applications, although blocking YouTube may be easier to enforce.
YouTube's parent company, Google, declined requests to remove the video from the website last year, but restricted access to it in certain countries, including Egypt, Libya and Indonesia, because it says the video broke laws in those countries. At the height of the protests in September, YouTube was ordered blocked in several countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah issued an order blocking all websites with access to the anti-Islam film in the conservative kingdom.
Lawyer Mohammed Hamid Salim, who filed the lawsuit in Cairo, alleged the film constitutes a threat to Egypt's security, adding that YouTube refused to remove the film despite its offensive content. Protesters in Cairo scaled the U.S. Embassy's walls and brought down the U.S. flag in the first demonstration against the film last year.
Last year, an Egyptian court convicted in absentia seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor, sentencing them to death on charges linked to the anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world. The case was seen as largely symbolic because the defendants, who mostly live in the United States, were outside Egypt and unlikely to ever face the sentence.
In a related case, a Cairo court had also convicted a Coptic Christian blogger who shared the film on social networking sites. The blogger was sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy and contempt of religion, but released on bail shortly thereafter.
The cases raise concern by some seculars and liberals that Islamists in power are seeking to curb freedom of speech. However, the most widespread curb occurred under Mubarak when his government blocked all access to the Internet for several days during the 18-day uprising that ousted him from power in an attempt to disrupt communications among activists.
Protests have continued to roil Egypt in the two years since he was toppled, with the latest bout of violence directed against President Mohammed Morsi's rule. The streets were largely quiet Saturday, a day after violent protests gripped several provinces as protesters clashed with police outside the presidential palace in Cairo.