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The four students were ordered to be held for additional forty-five days for investigation of defaming Islam in video
05/20/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern)
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that four students were ordered to remain in prison in Beni Mazar, Egypt for an additional forty-five days at a hearing held today. The four were taken into custody on April 9, when their parents delivered them to the police station, following a series of riots and death threats against the students, their families, and other Christians in Al-Nasriyah village.
While on a school trip, the four students recorded a video in which they can be seen mimicking the brutal actions of the jihadist group ISIS that brutally beheads its victims, as it did to 21 Christians on a beach in Libya, while professing religious piety.
When the video was discovered by some of those in the village violent protests broke out from April 7-10, as World Watch Monitor reported. The imprisonment of the four students and the teacher quelled some of the protests, though a few Christian homes were still attacked with Molotov cocktails, even after the five were detained.
On April 17, a reconciliation meeting was held in which, to limit the outrage of the Muslim community and to protect them from continued attacks, Christian leaders condemned what had happened and formally banned the teacher, Gad Younan, from the village “in order to preserve his life and to calm the situation in the village,” according to the document published by World Watch Monitor.
A hearing was held on April 22 and again on May 4, in both cases the students had their imprisonment extended for an additional 15 days, one of their attorneys, Maher Nagib Hanna, told ICC. At the May 4 hearing, the judge ordered Younan to be released after paying bail of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds ($1,300). The police refused to release him for an additional ten days, Hanna told ICC, because he was banished from the village according to the reconciliation meeting on April 17, the police required his family to come and sign a vow promising that he would not return again to the village.
“My brother is a servant in the church, he served the people in the village, he didn’t intend to defame Islam,” Samir Younan told ICC’a Egypt Representative. Gad is now living in hiding. with his wife and two children, while waiting for the final hearing when he may be convicted and could face as much as five years on the charge of defaming Islam.
The students are set to remain in prison for another month and a half where they continue to face harassment and threats. “One of the Muslim prisoners told the students that the police stirred them against them and said to them that these Christian students insulted Islam,” inciting them to harass the students, Hanna told ICC.
Today’s decision to extend the imprisonment of the students came as a surprise to their legal team. “This verdict was unexpected, and the case of the teacher and the four students is considered the first contempt of religion case in Beni Mazar court,” Hanna said. “Their verdict doesn’t depend on applying the law in this case, but on the climate of this case and the point of view of the judge. The judge considers that the accused committed a great crime in that they insulted his religion (Islam), so his decision depends on his personal opinion and the climate of this case and satisfying the other angry Muslims, not the law,” he continued.
Accusations of defaming Islam continue to plague Egypt even since the election of President Sisi. As ICC reported in 2014, Kerolos Shawky was charged with blasphemy for liking a Facebook page. He remains in hiding, but has been sentenced to six years in prison. Christian convert Bishoy Armia Boulos continues to languish in prison under charges of blasphemy related to his conversion to Christianity. On May 5, Michael Mounir Beshay was convicted of defaming Islam and sentenced to one year in prison.
Todd Daniels, regional manager for the Middle East said, “The continued imprisonment of these four students is a terrible miscarriage of justice and shows the need for serious reforms to fully protect the rights of Egypt’s religious minorities. The change must come both from the bottom up – putting an end to violent mobs protesting outside of homes, burning property – and from the top down – a judicial system that does not act simply to quell public outrage. While Egypt has an important role to play in countering violent extremism in the region, it must address the issues of extremism it has domestically. We urge the Egyptian legal system to rule on the case of the four students and the teacher according to the law, and not merely bending to public pressure to convict.”
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Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East