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Composer acquitted of insult to Islam; [London edition, USA edition] Schofield, James. Financial Times. London (UK): Dec 16, 1999. pg. 06

Copyright F.T. Business Enterprises Limited (FTBE) Dec 16, 1999

A Lebanese court has acquitted one of the Arab world's leading music composers of charges of insulting Islam by including Koranic verses in one of his songs.

Judge Ghada Abou Karoum said that Marcel Khalife had committed no crime under Lebanese law and proceeded to clear him of all charges, in a trial that had been seen as a test case for freedom of expression in a country perceived as one of the most liberal in the Arab world.

"The accused sang solemnly the holy Koranic verses, therefore he did not insult the sanctity of the Koran and neither did he incite anyone to do so," she said. "All judicial procedures against Khalife are to be halted," the judge said. Her verdict can be appealed against.

Mr Khalife, one of the Arab world's most respected performers, said he was very happy that the Lebanese judiciary "has acquitted itself from accusations of curbing freedom, culture and arts".

His supporters said the judge had drawn an important distinction between civil law and Islamic religious law.

The Lebanese novelist, Elias Khoury, said: "There is aclear separation between religious law and civil law. This is what we wanted from the beginning. The religious law must not be applied under civil law."

Mr Khalife was charged in October with insulting Islam by including Koranic verses in a song based on a poem by the popular Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish. The charge carried a sentence of imprisonment of up to three years.

Mr Khalife, 49, is currently on tour in Tunisia. He is expected to return to Lebanon next week. Copyright Financial Times Limited 1999. All Rights Reserved.