Two Egyptians sentenced for 'degrading religion'

Cairo, Egypt - An employee and an alumnus of Egyptian al-Azhar University were sentenced by a Cairo criminal court Monday to six and three years in prison respectively on charges of vice and for 'degrading religion.'

The verdicts come after the two co-accused filed a court appeal against an initial harsher sentence where one of them received 11 years in prison.

According to official reports, the University employee Abdel- Sabour Hassan Rizq claimed he was 'a messenger from God' and that the 'holy spirit has spoken to him.'

Rizq denied the importance of Islamic prayer - one of the pillars of mainstream Islam - but kept his pronouncements on religion to friends and acquaintances.

Neither of the defendants taught or preached at al-Azhar University, which teaches Islamic doctrine as well as medicine and social sciences, but is independent from the Sunni clerical organization by the same name.

According to police sources, Rizq also faced charges of using his apartment as a 'whorehouse.'

The other co-defendant, Mahmoud Abdel-Al, was Rizq's aide, reportedly helped him spread his religious ideology and was aware of Rizq's 'illegal' activities.

The two Egyptians were arrested at Rizq's apartment. It was not clear who informed police about the two co-defendants but police said they received credible information regarding their activities ahead of the arrests.