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Page last updated at 08:44 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 09:44 UK

Calls to release Jordanian poet

Muslim girl reading the Koran
Koranic verse is believed to be the literal word of God and sacred

Writers in Jordan are calling for the immediate release of a poet charged with insulting Islam in love poetry.

Islam Samhan's recent collection, Grace Like A Shadow, includes phrases from the Koran, viewed as sacrosanct by Muslims as the literal word of God.

One of Jordan's leading religious figures, the grand mufti, has accused Mr Samhan of blaspheming against "God, the angels and Prophet Muhammad".

Jordanian law bans publication of any material seen as harmful to Islam.

The head of the Jordanian writers association, Saoud Qubeilat, told the daily al-Ghad that poetry relied on figures of speech which could sound blasphemous if read superficially.

He added that the arrest of Mr Samhan would stifle creativity and freedom of expression.

Writers and artists have sent a petition to the government calling the arrest a "retreat in the freedom of expression", and urging an end to "oppression of freedom and intimidation practised against intellectuals".

Intolerance

The BBC's Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says poetry lovers hailed this first collection by Mr Samhan - whose name ironically translates as "tolerant Islam" - as a breakthrough, calling it innovative and beautiful.

However, despite the critical praise Mr Samhan has now been remanded in custody for two weeks while awaiting trial.

Grand Mufti Nuh Qdah said in a recent radio interview that poetry in which words from the Koran were combined with sexual themes was "a type of atheism and blasphemy", the AFP news agency reports.

The penalty in Jordan for insulting Islam or the Muslim prophet is up to three years in jail.

In 2006, two magazine editors were sentenced to two months in prison for reprinting controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.





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