Four Christian children and their teacher were charged by Egyptian authorities with blasphemy charges and were sentenced to prison time regarding a video mocking ISIS.
Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East director claims, “These children shouldn’t face prison for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke. The continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government’s claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion.”
Three children were sentenced on February 25 by a juvenile minor offenses court in Minya to five years in prison and ordered the placement in a juvenile facility to the fourth child for imitating Islamic prayer and the act of beheading in a 32 second video that the teacher had filmed. The teacher received a sentencing of three years in prison in a separate trial.
Human Rights Watch reported that two relatives of the children said that the teacher was filming the video during a trip that had taken place in February 2015 after a Libyan affiliate of ISIS released a video showing their beheading of 21 abducted Christians, 20 of which were from Minya.
Mueller Edward (17), Bassem Hanna (16), and Alber Ashraf (16) was sentenced to five years in prison while Clinton Yousef (17) was placed in a juvenile facility. They were arrested on April 9, 2015 after students circulated the video and it was reported to another teacher in the school.
Local newspapers subsequently reported that the video led to anti-Christian protests which included attacks on Christian owned businesses and attempts to storm a church.
The teenager’s lawyer cited that a technical unit of Egypt’s Radio and Television Union which is a government body that oversees public broadcasting had viewed the video and submitted a biased report to the court that cited opinion rather than content. The lawyer had requested that the court review the video themselves to validate the Union’s claim, however the presiding judge did not respond.
The children were charged under article 98(f) of Egypt’s penal code which outlaws contempt of religion and articles 160 and 161 regarding the public conduct of religious rituals despite the fact that the video was private. The trial commenced October 2015.
Mueller Edward’s father told Human Rights Watch that, “They are just teenagers. They 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?”
The teacher, Gad Yousef Younan, according to Human Rights Watch, left his house with his wife and children after a “customary reconciliation” council had decided to expel him from the village. These sessions are customary in Egypt and are extra-legal tools overseen by officials from security and religious establishments that are utilized in an attempt to resolve sectarian situations. Unfortunately, they often lead to illegal decisions such as forced evictions or Christian families.
Younan was eventually charged under 98(f) and received a three year sentence for contempt of religion. He however paid a $250 bail to remain free during the appeal process.
The lawyer had said that the forced eviction was not addressed, nor was an investigation of events. Article 63 of Egypt’s constitution says that forced eviction is a crime that does not lapse by prescription.
The children received the maximum punishment which ranges from a $70-$130 fine to a prison sentence of six months to five years. All parties involved may appeal, but the children must turn themselves into police in order to do so. Article 111 of the Child Law permits judges to use a wide range of disciplinary measures in the case of minor offenses in lieu of prison time, however, the judge selected the harshest penalty.
Over 28 different Egyptian rights groups and political parties condemned the rulings, and called for a repeal of article 98(f).
“Mocking ISIS, or any religious group, with a childish joke is not a crime,” Houry said. “Instead of giving in to retrograde views on blasphemy, Egyptian authorities should protect freedom of expression.”
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