Egyptian Teens Blasphemy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian government to overturn the blasphemy convictions lodged against four Coptic Christian teenagers and their teacher, in accordance with the country’s commitment to protect religious minorities.
The teens were sentenced guilty for being a part of a 30-second cell phone video filmed by their teacher in early 2015, where they are seen imitating ISIS prayers, with one kneeling on the floor, another appearing to make a waving sign by hand on his neck to symbolize beheading, and the other two standing and laughing.
Bassem Hanna, 16, Mueller Edward, 17, Alber Ashraf, 16, were given three to four years of imprisonment, while Clinton Yousef, 17, was sentenced to indefinite detention at a juvenile crime center on February 25. Their teacher Gad Yousef Younan was also jailed for three years in a separate trial.
The video was made public when the teacher lost his memory card, which subsequently led angry mobs of Muslims to attack the teenagers’ houses, and to expel their families from their village.
The teens and their teacher were arrested in April 2015, and charged with ‘contempt of Islam’ and causing sectarian strife.
“The judge didn’t show any mercy. He handed down the maximum punishment,” their lawyer Maher Naguib told AFP.
Naguib stressed that the four teenagers did not intend to insult Islam but were just mocking the beheadings done by ISIS.
“These children shouldn’t face prison for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke,” said Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “The continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government’s claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion.”
Naguib said that a local union from Egypt’s Radio and Television reviewed the video and gave a prejudiced report to the court, which was based on opinions rather than actual content of the video. The lawyer claimed that he asked the court to study the video to ascertain the validity of the union report, but the judge did not respond.
Edward’s father told the HRW that the teens were “psychologically troubled by the killings of Coptic Christians in Libya and went for entertainment. They didn’t deliberately intend any offense…How can you try someone for mocking ISIS?”