Human Rights Group Calls on Egypt to Stop Sending Christian Children to Prison on Blasphemy Charges

Egyptian Coptic Christians
Relatives and neighbours of Egyptian Coptic men killed in Libya chant pro-army slogans during a protest while carrying crosses in al-Our village, in Minya governorate, south of Cairo, February 16, 2015. Thousands of traumatized mourners gathered on Monday at the Coptic church in al-Our village south of Cairo, struggling to come to terms with the fate of compatriots who paid a gruesome price for simply seeking work in Libya. Thirteen of 21 Egyptians beheaded by Islamic State came from the impoverished dirt lanes of al-Our, violence that prompted the Egyptian military to launch an air strike on Islamic State militant targets in Libya. |

A human rights group has called on Egypt to drop charges against four Christian teenagers and their teacher who were accused of blasphemy for making a private video that mocks the Islamic State terror group.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement Sunday calling on Egyptian authorities to "quash blasphemy sentences handed down to four Christian boys and their teacher over a video mocking ISIS They should also revoke the penal code article that authorities use to prosecute blasphemy."

Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director for the group, added in a statement that the four children sentenced were only playing an immature joke.

"These children shouldn't face prison for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke," Houry said. "The continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government's claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion."

Houry added that "Mocking ISIS, or any religious group, with a childish joke is not a crime," suggesting that "Instead of giving in to retrograde views on blasphemy, Egyptian authorities should protect freedom of expression."

Three of the teenagers, Mueller Edward, 17, Bassem Hanna, 16, and Alber Ashraf, 16, were sentenced in February in Egypt's Minya province to five years imprisonment for participating in a video that shows them reciting verses from the Quran and mocking IS militants by pretending to behead each other.

A fourth boy, Clinton Yousef, 17, was sentenced to a juvenile facility for his involvement in the video, and the boys' teacher was sentenced to three years in a separate trial.

Maher Naguib, the teen' defense lawyer, has already indicated his plans to appeal the harsh ruling, telling the AFP that "the judge didn't show any mercy. He handed down the maximum punishment."

Along with Human Rights Watch, other activist groups have also spoken out against the ruling, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

As Mueller Edward's father told Human Rights Watch, the boys made the video in January 2015 as a way of dealing with the horrific persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

"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 father questioned.

As ABC News reports, there have been other recent cases involving Egypt's strict blasphemy law.

Last week, Justice Minister Ahmed el-Zind was removed from his post after he suggested he would imprison the Islamic prophet Muhammad if he were a criminal.

While el-Zind argued his comments were made off-the-cuff, Islamic groups in the country argued he had committed blasphemy by speaking against the religious icon.

Ahmed Mussa, a television host in the country, said after el-Zind's firing that "It is a sad day for justice in Egypt."

"It is a big mistake on the part of the prime minister and the president," he continued. "Regrettably, a bad end awaits anyone who works for the interest of the nation. It's much better to stand aside and shut up."

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