Lebanese satirist in hot water over claims he defamed Islam

A Lebanese satirist appeared before a prosecutor in Beirut on Monday, after the country’s top Sunni religious authority filed a judicial complaint against him for allegedly defaming Islam.

Charbel Khalil found himself in hot water after he shared a photo on social media last week that was perceived by some as insulting to Islam.

The photo shows a woman wearing a short dress under a black robe, sitting on a black bed-cover with the Islamic slogan “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet” on it in white Arabic letters. The cover resembled the banner of the extremist Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The photo was accompanied by the words: “sexual jihad under the Prophet’s umbrella??”

Khalil appeared before prosecutor Nada Asmar on Monday. A group of supporters, including Lebanese artists and colleagues, protested outside the judicial palace, some carrying banners that read “Je suis Charbel.”

The phrase “Je suis Charlie” – or I am Charlie – has been adopted by supporters of freedom of speech after last month’s murderous spree in Paris at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam and other religions.

Khalil directs the comedy program “Basmat Watan,” which in Arabic means “a nation’s smiles.” The program pokes fun at politicians of all stripes. In 2006, Khalil spoofed Hezbollah’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, sparking street demonstrations by supporters of the Shiite militant group’s leader who burned car tires and blocked roads in protest.

Khalil on Monday told reporters that the photo he shared on Twitter meant to shine a light on the harm being done by IS militants to Islam.

“The free judiciary has triumphed today,” he said, after he was let go by the investigating judge.

The case, however, was referred to an appeals court and Khalil was banned from traveling pending an investigation.