In a show of partiality to Muslims who go unprosecuted for like offenses against Christianity, a juvenile court in Egypt on Wednesday (April 4) sentenced a Coptic Christian teenager to three years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam.
Gamal Abdou Massoud, 17, denies the charges. The court claimed that he posted cartoons on his Facebook account in December that mocked the Islamic religion and its prophet, Muhammad. The court also claimed that he distributed the pictures to other students.
After the incident came to light, Muslims in Assuit, where Massoud lives, rioted. They fire-bombed his home and burned down at least five other Christian-owned homes in several Assuit villages. Massoud’s family left their village. It is uncertain if they were ordered out, left from fear or left because they had no home.
The sentencing was considered significant not only because it violates the free speech clauses of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Egypt is a signatory, but also shows another area where justice is executed unequally between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. The sentencing also shows that rights are given to the Christian minority in Egypt only when Islamic sensitivities are not involved.
When Muslim public figures violate Egyptian laws related to insulting Christianity, which happens often, the laws are ignored, Coptic Christians said. But when Christians are accused of violating the same laws against Islam, they pointed out, even a minor is usually punished to the full extent of the law.
The court also held Massoud responsible for inciting the riots. No one responsible for burning down any of the homes has been charged.
Samia Sidhom, managing editor at Watani newspaper in Cairo, said the sentencing was a clear example of the double standard. When Coptic lawyers bring cases before the court about alleged instances of inflammatory speech broadcast publicly by Islamic or government leaders against Christianity, the Bible or Christians, the charges “are simply sidelined,” with cases going on for years with no outcome.
“They never get any sentences,” Sidhom said.
The three-year sentence was the maximum Massoud could have received.
Sidhom also called into question the veracity of the charges. She said her reporters could find no evidence that Massoud had even had a Facebook page, calling him “almost computer illiterate.”
This is the third high-profile case of “insulting Islam” to be brought to court against Copts in Egypt in roughly a month. On March 3, a Cairo court dismissed a case against Naguib Sawaris, a Copt and telecommunications tycoon, who was accused of insulting Islam for placing a cartoon of Minnie Mouse in a veil on his Facebook site as a satirical comment on what Egypt would look like if Islamists gained political power in the country.
Two weeks later, on March 16, a group of Muslim lawyers blocked off a courtroom where Makram Diab, a Coptic Christian, was trying to launch an appeal against a six-year prison term levied against him for insulting Islam. A Salafi Muslim brought the accusations against him after the two had a quarrel at a school where the two worked. Salafists claim to practice the Islam of the first three generations after Muhammad.
Sentenced six days after authorities arrested him, Diab was not allowed to have a defense attorney present at his original court hearing. His appeal is pending.