Blasphemy cases rise in Egypt and Christians bear the brunt

In this Thursday, March 3, 2016 photo, Fadya Shehata Moussa, the mother mother of 17-year-old Bassem Amgad Hanna, one of four teens convicted for contempt of Islam, wipes away tears during an interview in Bani Mazar, Minya province, Egypt. The four teens and their supervisor, who was forced to leave the village with his family, were all convicted. Though all the defendants are under 18, three were sentenced to adult prison for five years and one to a juvenile detention facility for three years. The supervisor received a three year prison sentence. (AP Photo/Thomas Hartwell)
In this Thursday, March 3, 2016 photo, Fadya Shehata Moussa, the mother mother of 17-year-old Bassem Amgad Hanna, one of four teens convicted for contempt of Islam, wipes away tears during an interview in Bani Mazar, Minya province, Egypt. The four teens and their supervisor, who was forced to leave the village with his family, were all convicted. Though all the defendants are under 18, three were sentenced to adult prison for five years and one to a juvenile detention facility for three years. The supervisor received a three year prison sentence. (AP Photo/Thomas Hartwell)
In the video, the Egyptian Christian teens laugh playfully as a couple of them kneel down, imitating Muslim prayers, then another slides his hand under one boy’s neck, imitating the trademark beheadings of the Islamic State group.

The boys were playing around, satirizing the extremist group, and their school supervisor just happened to be videoing them, their defenders say. The result has been catastrophic: they were sentenced to prison under Egypt’s blasphemy laws – they were mocking Muslim prayers, prosecutors said – and have fled into hiding, leaving behind shattered families.

“My son was sentenced to five years for a laugh,” Iman Aziz, weeping, said in the teens’ home village of Nassariya in southern Egypt. Her son, Muller Atef, was seen in the 32-second video laughing but not joining in the “prayers.”

The verdict last month points to an irony in Egypt. Two years ago, the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power, and since then the government has been waging a harsh crackdown on Islamists.

Yet in the past three years, prosecutions on charges of insulting Islam have risen dramatically. From three such cases in 2011, there were 21 cases in the courts in 2015, around half targeting Christians, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Nine of the 2015 cases led to convictions and prison sentences, while the rest are still in the courts.

Part of the rise is connected to the spread of social media over recent years, Ibrahim said, with people feeling freer to express controversial opinions online. Many of the cases have originated in comments or videos posted on the Internet that Muslims raised court cases over. One Christian was even sentenced to six years in prison in 2014 for insulting religion after his Muslim neighbors discovered he had “liked” a Facebook page supporting Muslims who convert to Christianity.

But also, prosecutors and judges have aggressively pursued the cases, aiming to show that the state is still “protecting Islam” even as it cracks down on Islamists. It isn’t necessary a government policy – “I still don’t think this is a systematic campaign, but there is a pattern,” Ibrahim said. But it is one factor in the “overall shrinking of freedom of expression and thought” in Egypt, he said.

The cases have fallen predominantly on members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up around 10 percent of the country’s 90 million people. Christians have been among the strongest supporters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who as army chief organized the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the Brotherhood. When el-Sissi attended Copts’ Christmas Mass in Cairo’s main cathedral – the first Egyptian president to do so – he was given a rock-star greeting by thousands of cheering worshippers.

But in some ways, little has changed under el-Sissi for Christians, who long complained of discrimination.

Large-scale attacks on churches that flared in revenge for Morsi’s ouster have waned. But on a local level, frictions continue to erupt between Christians and Muslims in villages and small towns. Attempts to build or renovate churches, for example, are still often met by protests or violence by local Muslims, said Ibrahim.

In disputes, authorities tend to side with Muslims, said Nader Shukry, a Copts’ rights advocate. Christians blamed for actions deemed insulting to Muslims often face eviction from their hometown or swift trials with heavy sentences. But if Christians are victims of actions by Muslims, police officers bring the two sides in to informal reconciliation meetings in which the Christians are pressured into dropping any legal action, Shukry said.

Under el-Sissi, it is “the same game,” Shukry said. “The president’s talk is something and what is happening on the ground is something else.”

Also problematic are the laws against insulting religion. A 1982 law sets a punishment of up to five years in prison and fines for anyone who “exploits religion” or promotes “extremist thought” to “spark sedition, insult or blaspheme the heavenly religions … or harm the national unity.” Any Muslim can raise a complaint over a perceived insult to religion, giving a free hand for lawsuits.

“The worst is that it is vague and has no ceiling,” said Maher Naguib, the teens’ lawyer. “If you send one case to two judges, judges would differ on defining what is an insult.”

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s pre-eminent institution, which el-Sissi has empowered to lead his “revolution” against extremist, backs the blasphemy law.

In February, an online activist Mustafa Abdel-Nabi was sentenced to three years in absentia for postings about atheism on his Facebook page. A writer, Fatma Naoot, was sentenced to three years in prison in January over Facebook postings criticizing the slaughter of animals for Muslim holidays. A prominent TV host, Islam Behery, received a one-year prison sentence after calling for passages he said supported terrorism to be removed from books of Islamic religious interpretation.

In the case of the teens, their video didn’t even go on line. The teens didn’t distribute the video, but Muslim acquaintances happened to see it on their phones a couple of months later.

An uproar spread among the town’s Muslims, and angry villagers attacked the families’ homes.

To assuage their anger, the parents and the church slaughtered cows and turkeys for a banquet for the villagers. When prosecutors announced charges against the boys, the parents handed them over to the mayor to give to the police, confident it would all be cleared up. Some Muslim neighbors showed solidarity with the parents, testifying to prosecutors that the teens are known as good boys.

In its investigation report, the prosecutor described the video but did not mention the part where they mocked the Islamic State group’s beheadings, the part that proves who was the real target of their laughter, the defense argues. The video came shortly after 21 Christian migrant workers from a village near Nassariya were beheaded by IS militants in Libya. The report said the case is “packed with evidence,” including the fact that one of the suspects was “smiling.”

Naguib said that judges refused to watch the video despite his requests. When one judge finally did, he ordered the teens’ release pending trial.

The four teens and their supervisor, who was forced to leave the village with his family, were all convicted. Though all the defendants are under 18, three were sentenced to adult prison for five years and one to a juvenile detention facility for three years. The supervisor received a three year prison sentence.

“They are witch-hunting. There is arrogance, intolerance to others,” Naguib said.

When asked why he believes authorities pressed the case so aggressively, he said: “Extremism, an attempt to appease the masses at the expense of the young men.”

When the verdicts were announced, the teens fled, fearing their parents would hand them over to police again. One mother, Fadya Shehata Moussa said her son, Bassem Amgad Hanna, lashed out at her as he left, saying he would throw out his mobile phone chip and cut off all contacts with her.

Iman Shaker Hanna, the mother of 16-year-old Albert Hanna, said her whole family erupted in screams at the verdict. Except her, she was too shocked.

“I sat silently for hours… people were telling me to cry but there were no tears,” she said. “I asked God: Is it over, is there no hope?”

The Associated Press

  • 5thDrawer

    Sacrificial Lambs.
    “Extremism, an attempt to appease the masses at the expense of the young men.”

  • Rascal

    What are we still living in the middle-ages? The future is slowly being retrograded due to Islamic sensitivities. No culture will be able to call themselves modern as long as they still jail (or worse) people for crimes against their god of hate.

    • 5thDrawer

      If they thought a kid’s home movie was naughty, maybe the courts in Egypt should see some of the Islamic-Doctrine videos on YouTube, with the chants of the pious baby-makers about Death to every Country which took them in. Or … maybe Egypt would like to take them back …. 😉

      • Rascal

        Would you consider Islam now, to be a global problem? What is fundamentally wrong with these people. Islam,I never could understand the attraction to such are barbaric ideology, and I certainly consider many of its intolerant and violent followers a threat to mankind.
        All for the power, under the pretext of Islamic supremacy.
        Absolute power corrupts….absolutely.

        • 5thDrawer

          I think it’s fair to say it’s now a ‘world’ problem … but there’s a lot of anarchistic ‘youth’ these days too … and many search for answers that never come. Religions don’t have them. They only promote a theory.
          For some reason, the realities of ‘life’ have not been explained very well, and the desire to somehow make it better than it really is has been vastly overlooked by education which pushes ‘tech’ and not thoughtful human interaction.
          If humans do not have self-confidence based in a reality, they end up with a simple ‘belief’ … and/or with nothing. And they switch to blaming anything other than themselves. Finding a religion which blames all others, and allows only a passionate outlet in it’s ‘righteousness’, can fill the time of the daily grind fairly well. And ‘logic’ is not needed when the words of only ‘One’ direct every movement of the day. It’s a ‘directed anarchy’.
          The anarchist believes there should be no law restricting what he/she might decide to do at any given moment. It’s an anti-social concept.
          I think the Islamist is ‘against’ any society which is not directed by one anarchist’s words.
          And there have been many words written by different Mufti, after all. New Hadiths pre-empt past ones – as it is written in the first book. And there is no logic allowed by a ‘question’ to a ‘Prophet’, after all, when a thought is said to come from a God.

          • Hind Abyad

            God has no chosen people.. it’s a Jewish myth
            God is one for all men on Earth.. He let men free to destroy themselves..
            coming soon

          • Barry

            You can doubt the Bible all you want, just please stop calling yourself a Christian.

          • 5thDrawer

            How about … A Democrat. 😉

          • Hind Abyad

            Who wrote the Bible? Jews for Jews.. what i witness today proves to me Jesus was real i understand now what Jesus lived

          • Barry

            if you think the Bible was written by Jews for Jews (lol), then you must dismiss the New Testament, upon which it is based. Thus, you ain’t no Christian. A hater, yes. Christian? No.

          • Hind Abyad

            Of course I’m Christian, Jesus was Jewish his disciples and followers were Jews.
            The Pharisee wrote the Talmud after the Bible they rejected him because he said; we are all God’s children (New Testament).

            The Bible God tell you to kill..
            Deuteronomy, chapter 20

            16: But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
            17: but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites, as the LORD your God has commanded; The Treatment of Conquered Nations

            “An early attempt was made in Talmudic days. The Hebrew for “show them no pity” (lo teHannem) was read as “do not grant them [land],” as if the text read lo taHnem), that is, do not sell real estate to “them-a rendering which leaned on the warning in Exod. 23:33 not to let them dwell “in your land”. But even if one would deem this interpretation feasible (which. it is not, in view of the clear Masoretic text), one could not argue away the provision of Deut. 20:16 which, using another word, unequivocally says, “You shall not let a soul remain alive.”

          • 5thDrawer

            There’s a lot of stuff in that ‘Book’ that is not adheared to .. ;-))
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Deuteronomy

            Obviously, NOT “all God’s Children got soul”.

          • Hind Abyad

            I said Wikipedant is the Babel Tower edited and revised.
            I studied wickedwitch asking historical FACTS..it’s biased and unethical in everything regarding Israel and Zionism.
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3b6e3cf7df61a66286a6a57c26d4cee9bb65fe1108dc584e92754efa7203594f.gif Israel.

            adath-shalom.ca/commandment_genocide.htm

          • 5thDrawer

            There is really nothing wrong with revising …. if it’s done accurately.
            Wiki never claimed to be more than an ‘Open-Scource’ Library.
            It was never a Britannica.

          • Hind Abyad

            I meant Arabic contribution is edited and the words (however) are mixed up with Greek, Latin
            “Arabic Algebra was elementary”..humm

            Algorism, the name applied in Middle Ages employed these numerals from Mohamed al Khowarizmi, who wrote “Liber Algorism” (The book of Alkhowarizm). It appeared in Medieval French as Augrisme, and it was carried to England as Augrysme
            Wikipedia take sides.. (as i see it)

            First Western historian Herodotus 500BC, Greek: Παλαιστίνη, Palaistinē – same word as Philistiais, in book “Ancient Histories”, he calls them Palestinians of Syria.
            Zionist say Palestina name was given by the Romans.. Palestine never existed. Romans were not in Palestine in 500BC

            Wikipedia “Ancient period[edit]
            Further information: Pre-history of the Southern Levant

            Proto-Canaanite period[edit]
            A dwelling unearthed at Tell es-Sultan, Jericho

            The earliest human remains in Palestine were found in Ubeidiya, some 3 km south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), in the Jordan Rift Valley. The remains are dated to the Pleistocene, c. 1.5 million years ago. These are traces of the earliest migration of Homo erectus out of Africa. The site yielded hand axes of the Acheulean type.[14]

            Wikipedia “Proto-Canaanite period[edit]
            A dwelling unearthed at Tell es-Sultan, Jericho

            The earliest human remains in Palestine were found in Ubeidiya, some 3 km south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), in the Jordan Rift Valley. The remains are dated to the Pleistocene, c. 1.5 million years ago. These are traces of the earliest migration of Homo erectus out of Africa. The site yielded hand axes of the Acheulean type.[14]” (etc..)

          • 5thDrawer

            In the books of Herodotus, 2nd mentions Europe, and also how Egyptians embalm a body – at three levels of cost. (Note 86 and on .. quite interesting.) ;-))

          • DaveTheRave

            Ancient Irish Celts used the Phoenician script. It was a natural advance for them as their languages are practically the same.
            http://phoenicia.org/Phoenician_Celtic_connections.html.

            The solar centric mythologies of the Celts are directly derived from the Eastern end of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor

            There is a solar temple at Newgrange that predates the Great Pyramids by 500 years.

          • Hind Abyad

            Also the Mayan pyramides..

          • Matrix

            Hind, you must make a definite decision – can we trust Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet) as a source or we can’t?

            Remember….. “I said Wikipedant is the Babel Tower edited and revised.”

          • Hind Abyad

            First i explain they’re biased toward Arabic Algebra. Second, they have the real history and the word-Edit. Have a nice day:)

          • Matrix

            Whatever you say Sheldon.

          • Hind Abyad

            Whatever you say Sheldon.

          • Matrix
          • Hind Abyad

            You say same thing over and over.

          • Matrix
          • Matrix

            “Israel” most probable forecast.

        • Hind Abyad

          The same as Jewish fundamentalism
          http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.704570

          • Barry

            Interesting that you, a Christian, try to deflect from Christian persecution by Muslims bc it does not fit your world outlook. You are like the Jewish socialists in America who defended Stalin in the 1930s as Jews were being murdered by the thousands (and non Jews by even more). You sit in the West that you hate, convinced that your Arabness will save you from these medievalists. Sorry, not going to happen.
            You cannot return to Nasserism but the fundamentalists can easily return to the 7th century. Christians have no place in their book. And they have way more followers that you do.

          • Hind Abyad

            Christians had no place in Ataturk or Jabotinsky’s book.. take walk hypocritical Barry.
            Jews created Bolshevism. The editor of Ataturk paper Young Turks promoted the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide, continued by this century by Washington Jews in the invasion of Irak.

          • Rascal

            There is very little “Christian” about Hind.
            I would like to prescribe to her some Valium for her anger management problem.

          • Y K

            “There is very little “Christian” about Hind.”
            She’s a special kind of “Christian”. Russian Black Hundreds, Romanian Iron Guardists, not to mention her direct ideological influence – the cheerful fascist Antun Saadeh – spring to mind.

          • Matrix

            As usual, you will fit in with your incorrect comparisons only to mitigate the ethnic sphere you originates.
            At the same time you live in western society that you hate, but the fact is that you can’t compare the fundamentalism of the Islamic-Doctrine with the Jewish.

            Daesh barbaric ideology affects and threatens globally while the Jewish fundamentalism is a local problem that infect Israeli schools.

            That fundamentalism can divide the Jewish state and perhaps even turn into an ugly violent internal conflict.
            However Globally it wouldn’t be noticed more than media news about it, with no threat outside the local arena.

            Some will mourn, others will rejoice as always.

          • Hind Abyad

            I said go to hell troll, i love the Western society were i live, stop living i a virtual World.
            I don’t know you don’t know me. Sayonara.

          • Matrix

            Whatever you say Sheldon…..