Four Egyptian Christian kids who dared make fun of ISIS in a harmless video are headed for trial along with their teacher on charges of “insulting Islam,” after their Muslim neighbors got hold of the footage and went to police.
FOX News (h/t ToastedHam) Aged between 15 and 16, the youths could face up to five years in a youth detention center – while the teacher would serve any sentence he receives in prison – if the court finds them guilty of violating Egypt’s blasphemy law, Egypt-focused activists say.
Egyptian Christian and civil rights groups are leading calls for their release, but the five – members of the Coptic community that descends from the non-Arab people whose Pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt – have already spent weeks in police holding cells.
“They are some kids who decided to have fun in a private place,” Mina Thabet, a Coptic activist and researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, told FoxNews.com from Cairo. “They were on a trip with their teacher, but somehow rumor got out that they’d thrown down the Koran, and had insulted Islam, so that led to their arrests.”
The teacher, Gad Younan, 42, had been escorting the four boys – and a fifth Coptic youth seen in the video – on a faith-based excursion outside their home village of Al-Nasriyah in Minya Governorate. At some point, the teacher allowed the boys to shoot a video on his cell phone in their hotel room.
Thabet said the 32-second clip – provided exclusively to FoxNews.com – fails to support the rumors about the boys having allegedly insulted Islam. Instead, it shows them mocking ISIS by imitating a beheading – a form of execution that has become one of the terror group’s multiple signature atrocities.
“They use some words that are used in Muslim prayers, but they are in no way being disrespectful to Islam,” said Thabet. “And even if they were, they should have the right to free speech – but in Egypt we have this law.”
Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code criminalizes a series of faith-related comments, including “insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it.”
Muslim residents in Al-Nasriyah filed an initial complaint in early April, leading to Younan’s arrest and, says one Coptic newspaper report, questioning over four days. More than 2,000 local Muslims then launched a series of marches over three days in order to put pressure on the parents of the children to give up their loved ones to the authorities, witnesses reported.
“They were…chanting: ‘With our souls and blood, we will defend you, oh Islam! We will not leave you; we will take revenge for you!” Salah told how the mobs were “pelting Christian homes with stones” and “pounding threateningly on doors and windows” of shops owned by Coptic Christians.
A “reconciliation meeting” between the Muslim and Christian communities in the village ended the way Coptic activists say such gatherings typically end: with the Christian side being essentially forced to offer its apologies and make a series of concessions.
This one ended with the Christians of the village condemning what had happened, and agreeing to ban Younan from the village “in order to preserve his life and to calm the situation,” said their signed avowal document, according to World Watch Monitor.
The prosecution of the youths comes against the backdrop of a new wave of Muslim targeting of Christians in the towns and villages of Minya Governorate despite a pledge by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to protect members of the faith amid his calls for national unity.
The targeting has included mob-violence and even police raids on Christian places of worship, most often in relation to attempts by Christians to repair or rebuild some of the 80 or so churches damaged or destroyed attacks on them in August 2013.