CAIRO A lawsuit filed against Egyptian comic actor Adel Imam for insulting Islam was rejected by a court on Thursday, but he could still face a jail sentence for a conviction in a similar case, his lawyers said.
Earlier, the state-run newspaper al-Ahram incorrectly reported that the three-month sentence had been overturned on appeal.
Imam's lawyers, Nabil Moawad and Safwat Hussein, told Reuters he remained a free man pending the outcome of an appeal against that conviction, the result of a case filed by the same plaintiff.
The two lawsuits against Imam, whose presence in any movie or theatre cast virtually guarantees a box-office hit, were brought by Asran Mansour, a lawyer with ties to Islamist groups.
Mansour accused the actor of offending Islam and its symbols, including beards and the galabiya, a loose-fitting garment often worn by hardline Islamists.
Imam, 71, has poked fun at officials in his comedies and politicians of all colors during a 40-year career, although he was publicly criticized by many Egyptians for failing to back protests against former President Hosni Mubarak. Some films deal with the rise of Islamic militancy.
The jail sentence against Imam was issued a few weeks after Islamists swept most seats in a parliamentary vote.
Egypt's liberals, leftists and others are worried that Islamists who have emerged as the dominant political force in post-Mubarak Egypt will stifle social and cultural freedoms.
"ART IS NOT HERESY"
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the court on Thursday to support Imam. "We want freedom of creativity," and "No to prosecuting creative artists," chanted the crowd, which included directors, producers and actors.
Some carried banners saying "Art is not heresy."
"This is an unjust case against Imam and a stifling of freedom of expression," actress Jihan Fadel said. "If Imam's appeal is not accepted, this will pave the way for more obstacles in the path of all creative people in Egypt."
But some passers-by shouted "Jail Imam" and "Imam has always been the enemy of Islam." Arguments broke out between the actor's supporters and opponents.
Among films and plays targeted by the lawyer were the movie "Morgan Ahmed Morgan" and the play "Al-Zaeem" ("The Leader"), the report said.
Court cases against directors, actors, artists and intellectuals accused of failing to respect religious authority are relatively common in Egypt.
Magy Morgan, one of Imam's supporters, said outside the court: "The revolution was fought for freedom of expression and to see a case like this is a disgrace."
(The story has been corrected to amend text throughout to clarify that Imam could still face jail sentence. Previous story was based on an incorrect report - see paragraph two.)
(Reporting by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Andrew Roche)