The last of four Egyptian boys accused of having “offended” Islam has been released on bail while trial is expected to continue after the Muslim month of Ramadan.
The 17-year-old student from Upper Egypt was released after 62 days in prison, subject to the payment of 10,000 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to several months’ wages by local rural standards. The boy is following a complicated, often hard-to-predict legal path together with three fellow Christian students and their teacher, who have slipped into a maze of events for having “mimicked” Islam.
As a result, a series of riots and death threats have dogged the boys and their families, as well as other Christians in Al-Nasriyah village. In April, the attacks came after a 32-second video apparently showing them deriding the atrocities against Christians, under a cover of piety, became public knowledge.
The boys had to be delivered by their parents to the police station earlier in April, following violent protests by angry Muslims, in which homes were attacked and demands were made that Christians be banished from the area.
However, in the cases of sectarian attacks against Copts, they have often been used to deprive them of recourse to Egypt’s justice system, which itself has been subject to criticism by international human-rights organzations.
To date, no rioters have been arrested. The charges against the five Christians have not been dropped.
The Coptic students and their teacher were part of a group on a church trip when their teacher recorded the video.
Gad and the boys’ woes started after his personal memory card was found by a Muslim villager, who spread the footage among locals.
The ongoing turmoil saw the five arrested, with the public prosecution intent on following on with more serious charges.
The teacher’s lawyer, Maher Naguib, told Mideast Christian News that keeping the students in prison for so long did not serve the investigation – which had already completed with no more witnesses to question. It was intended to humiliate them, he said.
On what to expect in this case, Naguib said, “It’s unknown. The verdict will be up to the opinion of the judge, depending on how far a Muslim judge is likely to take the case against the Christians.”
“If he then considers it a case of ‘insulting and defaming Islam,’ the verdict will be very bad,” Naguib added.
The footage references the beheading of Christians, including 21 Copts, on a beach in Libya, depicted in a video released by the so-called Islamic State. Videos deliberately produced and distributed by IS often contain extended theologically-based diatribe against Christianity and Christians.
Weeks in hiding
For weeks Gad has lived in hiding with his wife and children. A close relative contacted by World Watch Monitor said the teacher was suspended from his work, while his wife also is jobless. Their children have been unable to go to school.
Accusations of “blasphemy” continue to arise in Egypt nearly two years after Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rose to power, first driving the Muslim Brotherhood out of office, and then outlawing it. The official religious establishment in the country, topped by Islam’s leading religious institution, Al-Azhar, is pressing for an “international law to criminalize contempt of religion,” which would spread the application of anti-blasphemy laws around the world.
As in other Muslim-majority countries, minorities and free-thinkers tend to be the most frequent target of blasphemy charges. A 2014 report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said “blasphemy laws … empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals, minorities, and dissenters.”
“In practice, they have proven to be ripe for abuse and easily manipulated,” the report added.