The blasphemy conviction lodged against four Egyptian teens, for mocking ISIS in a 30-second cell phone video is being condemned by rights groups urging the government to repeal their sentences.
The teens are all Coptic Christians, who represent 10 percent of Egypt’s population and have historically accused the Muslim majority of discrimination, NBC News added.
The conviction by an Egyptian court of the teens on Feb. 25 has been condemned most vocally by Human Rights Watch. The deputy director of the organization’s Middle East chapter, Nadim Houry, said, “mocking ISIS, or any religious group, with a childish joke is not a crime.”
The teens, the group continued in an official statement, shouldn’t face prison for “expressing themselves, even with an immature joke.” Instead of pursuing the conviction, Egypt should work to protect free speech and give up its adherence to “retrograde views” of blasphemy.
Egyptian teens Mueller Edward, 17; Bassem Hanna, 16; Alber Ashraf, 16; Clinton Yousef, 17; and their teacher Gad Yousef Younan, made the video in response to the beheading of fellow Christians.
Last year, an ISIS affiliate released footage of 21 Christians being beheaded in Libya. The victims and the teens are all Coptics and members of the same Egyptian region 160 miles south of Cairo, called Minyam.
The video shows the teens pretending to pray. One kneels while another recites verses from the Quran and two others stand behind him and laugh. One waves his hand under another’s neck to mimic beheading. The teacher filmed the scene.
After the video’s content came to light, angry Egyptian Muslims called for the teens and the teacher to be evicted from their village. With cries of blasphemy, mobs attacked the teens’ homes and Egyptian security forces arrested them. The teacher and his family were told to leave the village by its leaders.
Relatives of the teens told HRW that they were detained in cells with adults and criminals, which is a violation of Egyptian law. Edward’s father said none of the teens “talk much about what happened inside,” noting that his son got 98 percent in the high school exams, even though they were taking the exams inside the police station.”
He also defended the teens’ actions.
“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?”
For their alleged blasphemy, the Egyptian teens were sentenced to between three and five years in prison; a fourth was referred to a juvenile detention facility; and the teacher was sentenced to three years in a separate trial. The teens haven’t turned themselves in, aren’t currently in custody, and were sentenced without appearing at trial.
The teens’ lawyer, Maher Naguib, said his clients were convicted of blasphemy and contempt of Islam and for stoking sectarian unrest, according to Christian Today.
“The judge didn’t show any mercy,” Naguib added. “He handed down the maximum punishment.”
According to The Associated Press, there has been a “flurry” of blasphemy cases in Egypt lately, which rights groups blames on a culture of intolerance in the Egyptian judicial system. This is rampant despite attempts by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to forward religious reform.
In addition to demanding the teens’ sentenced be quashed, rights group are calling for the laws that prosecute blasphemy to be revoked by the authorities.
A supporter of el-Sissi, TV host Ahmed Mussa, spoke out against the blasphemy conviction Sunday night.
“It is a sad day for justice in Egypt. It is a big mistake on the part of the prime minister and the president. Regrettably, a bad end awaits anyone who works for the interest of the nation. It’s much better to stand aside and shut up.”
So far, 28 human rights groups and Egyptian political parties have condemned the blasphemy conviction. Last year, 12 people — among them Christians, atheists, and Sunni and Shia Muslims — were convicted of blasphemy-related charges.
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