Egypt court sentences four Coptic Christian teenagers for contempt of Islam
Published 25/02/2016 | 15:26
An Egyptian court has convicted four Coptic Christian teenagers for contempt of Islam after they appeared in a video mocking Muslim prayers.
Three of the teenagers were sentenced to five years in prison, while a fourth, who is under 18, was referred to a juvenile detention facility.
The ruling underscores a culture of intolerance within the country's judicial system at a time when the Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is seeking to position himself as an advocate for religious reform.
The 30-second video showed the students pretending to pray, with one kneeling on the floor while reciting Qur'anic verses and two others standing behind him and laughing. One waved his hand under a second's neck in a sign of beheading. The video was filmed by the students' teacher, who is also a Christian, and who was sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islam in a separate trial.
Their teenagers' lawyer, Maher Naguib, said his clients, who are high school students in the southern province of Minya, have not been detained and did not appear in court for the trial.
Some 10 security trucks surrounded the court building in the southern city of Bani Mazar. The families of the students cried, and some women wailed in disbelief and collapsed on hearing the verdict.
Mr Naguib described the ruling as "unbelievable" and said the judge should have just punished the teenagers with a fine.
Iman Girgis, a mother of one of the convicted students, Moller Atef, said: "My son was sentenced to five years for laughing. Is that possible?"
"What kind of justice is this?" she added.
Mr Naguib said the video came to light in April 2015, shortly after Islamic State militants in Libya beheaded dozens of Egyptian Christians. The video prompted calls by angry Muslims to evict the students and the teacher from their village. Mobs attacked the students' houses and security forces arrested the students while the teacher and his family were ordered to leave the village after a meeting of the village elders.
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have called on Egyptian authorities to end prosecutions based on contempt of religion laws. A recent HRW report documented 27 such court cases between 2011 and 2014.