The last of four students held on charges of defaming Islam in a video mocking ISIS was released on bail
Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East
06/09/15 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) –
After sixty-two days in a prison in Beni Mazar, the last of four Egyptian students held on charges of defaming Islam has been released on bail. The charges have not been dropped, and although he and the other students have returned home, the case will likely continue as the prosecution has been intent on seeing a conviction in this case.
The 17-year-old C.M [full name withheld for security] was released following the fifth hearing in his case. “The court released him on bail of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds [$1,300 USD),” his lawyer, Maher Nagib Hanna, told ICC.
C.M and the three other students 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.
Violent protests broke out from April 7-10, after the video was discovered on the teacher’s memory card and shared among the village, 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, at a “customary reconciliation” meeting, Christian leaders condemned what 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.
These kinds of meetings are often held following violent uproar in Egypt, but rather than holding the rioters responsible for their actions, they typically will force the victim’s family to apologize, as happened recently in Beni Suef following riots that forced a number of families from their village.
The three other students had been released on bail in late May, but C.M.’s appeal was rejected and after subsequent appeals, his legal team was able to get him released.
Doubling Down on “Contempt of Religion”
Accusations of contempt of religion or “blasphemy” continue to plague Egypt, even since the election of President Sisi. The years immediately after Egypt’s 2011 Revolution witnessed a number of cases of “defamation of religion,” as was documented in a 2014 report from the Egyptian Initiative of Personal Rights, but the pace of cases has remained constant.
Christians in Egypt, which make up just an estimated ten percent of the country, have been the disproportionately targeted by Egypt’s blasphemy laws
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. And as recently as May 5, Michael Mounir Beshay was convicted of defaming Islam and was sentenced to one year in prison. The four students and their teacher are also added to the long list of those charged with insulting or expressing “contempt of religion.”
Despite calls for reform of these laws that unjustly imprison any who express religious ideas that differ from the views held by the majority, Egypt is proposing greater restrictions.
On Sunday, June 7, Egypt’s minister for religious endowments called for the issuance of an “international law to criminalize contempt of religion,” an official speaking on behalf of the minister said. “Gomaa believes the international law, which he is calling for, should criminalize contempt of religion ‘without any discrimination,'” according to Aswat Masriya.
Far from improving the situation for religious freedom and religious tensions, laws like this unjustly imprison those whose views differ from whatever belief currently holds power, and as in the case of Egypt results in the imprisonment of minorities on frivolous charges.
As the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in a 2014 report on the issue, “Blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness, as they 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 with false accusations.”
This has certainly been the case for Egypt over the past few months and the sixty-two days that C.M. spent in prison in Beni Mazar are only the latest piece of evidence.
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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