Christian boys accused of mocking Islam sentenced to jail for 5 years in Egypt
Three Christian boys aged 15 to 18 were sentenced to five years in jail by a court in Egypt’s Minya province. They were accused of mocking Islam last year after recording a video in January 2015 while on a class field trip. In the video the boys pretended to be Islamic State militants by reciting Quranic prayers and pretending to slit each others’ throats.Their teacher, who filmed the video on his mobile phone, was sentenced to three years in jail in a separate trial.
Maher Naguib, the boys’ defense lawyer, said he plans to appeal the judge’s harsh ruling.”They have been sentenced for contempt of Islam and inciting sectarian strife,” Naguib said, adding, “the judge didn’t show any mercy. He handed down the maximum punishment.”
Mina Thabet, a researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said that the boys were prosecuted for participating in a harmless teenage prank “but somehow rumour got out that they’d thrown down the Quran and had insulted Islam, so that led to their arrests”.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and other activist groups have spoken out against the sentence, arguing it unfairly targets Coptic Christians in the strict Muslim majority country. EIPR stated that the court was using the excuse of “protection of religions, general system, and public morals” as a reason to “impose restrictions on the mother of all freedoms: freedom of expression and faith.”
Orthodox Copts, the Middle East’s biggest Christian community, have long complained of discrimination under successive Egyptian leaders. Christians continue to suffer persecution under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. who made some public statements and small gestures, for example about the Copts that were killed by ISIS in Libya. Nevertheless restrictive laws directed at Christians remain.
There have been several instances in Egypt where Christians were sentenced to harsh prison sentences for allegedly “insulting Islam.” Another teenage boy received a jail sentence just for “liking” a Christian Facebook page last year. In August 2015, Medhat Ishak, a 35-year-old Coptic Christian, had his jail sentence extended after he was arrested for handing out Bibles at the Mall of Arabia. In 2014, 32-year-old Bishoy Armia Boulous, a journalist who converted from Islam to Christianity, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “instigating” Muslim-Christian conflict by reporting “misinformation … in order to depict Egyptian Christians as victims of discrimination.”