More Trouble for Egyptian Christian Teacher Accused of Blasphemy

A Coptic Christian schoolteacher, who is being held in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor on allegedly false charges of blasphemy and preaching Christianity, will be in custody for another 15 days, prosecutors decided Saturday.

Dimiana Abdel-Nour, a 24-year-old history and geography teacher at the Sheik Sultan Primary School in Luxor, will be held for another 2 weeks, The Associated Press said Saturday quoting prosecutors.

To protest alleged false charges, Abdel-Nour went on hunger strike days ago, and was sent to a local hospital. She believes Islamist extremists urged students to make false allegations against her, that she insulted the Prophet Muhammad while talking about Islam in class last month.

About a year ago, a court sentenced another Christian teacher, Bishoy Kamel, to six-year imprisonment on similar charges as well as for insulting Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

Amnesty International has urged authorities to release Abdel-Nour. It is "outrageous that a teacher finds herself behind bars for teaching a class," Amnesty's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui was quoted as saying. Sahraoui added that in case of a professional mistake or deviation from the curriculum, "an internal review would have sufficed."

The Christian's arrest has not taken place in a vacuum. "In recent months, there has been a notable increase in judicial harassment of opposition activists, bloggers, comedians, protesters, and others," Amnesty International has said. "News about fresh charges of insulting President Mohamed Morsi or other officials, or of 'defaming' religion – as well as sweeping arrests of opposition protesters – are now the norm."

Meanwhile, a Coptic man was arrested on Saturday for stabbing his wife for converting to Islam and for making an attempt to meet their son in Assiut, another southern Egyptian city. Security officials told AP that Romany Amir stabbed his wife while she sought to meet her son at school. They had separated ever since she converted to Islam about four months ago.

Conversion is a highly sensitive issue in Egypt. The nation has witnessed several incident of violence over rumors that some Muslim women have been converted to Christianity by use of "force" in recent months.

Christians constitute more than 10 percent of Egypt's population of 84 million.

Violence against Christians has increased since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, following which Islamist forces gained prominence in Egypt's society and politics. The former authoritarian leader had kept Islamists under tight control.

Coptic Pope Tawadros II has complained of attempts to Islamize the government under President Morsi, who is from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. "Egyptian society refuses religious formation of the state," Al-Nasr magazine recently quoted him of saying. "What was established by Muhammad Ali nearly two hundred years ago was a modern civil state that respected pluralism."

Abdel Rahman al-Barr, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, had issued a fatwa asking Muslims not to wish Christians on Easter, which was celebrated by the Coptic Church on May 5.

An Islamist-backed constitution voters approved through a controversial referendum last year establishes Islamist supremacy and has caused concerns over the lack of full religious freedom in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

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