A teacher and four students arrested in April over a video they shot mocking “Islamic State” have now all been released on bail, a lawyer representing the individuals told Daily News Egypt. The case remains under consideration.
Gad Younan, 42, from the village of Al-Nasriyah in Upper Egypt, had led a small group of teenage Coptic students to a neighbouring village. A video filmed on his phone in which the boys mocked the militant group praying and beheading caused a local sectarian dispute, with local residents feeling they were insulting the religion of Islam.
The video, which somehow surfaced online, appeared to refer to a video released by a militant group aligned with “Islamic State” in Libya who beheaded 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and an unidentified African Christian in February of this year.
“Younan was the first to be released on bail, but after the release of the fourth student yesterday, they have now all been released,” Hamdy Al-Assiuty, one of the group’s defence lawyers told Daily News Egypt.
All of the defendants were released on a bail of EGP 10,000 each. Three of the students had been in detention for 41 days, and the fourth was in detention for 60 days. A fifth boy in the video fled the village.
Following heightened tensions and violence in the Upper Egypt village, with Coptic residents reporting that their homes and businesses have been attacked, a reconciliation meeting was held between elders of the village.
“They decided that the children should be able to stay in the village, but that the teacher must leave,” Al-Assiuty said. “These meetings are reactionary and harsh and speak of an absence of rule of law and government in the country.”
Whilst Younan and the four students have been released on bail, the case is still being looked at by the Minya High Court. A judge will decide whether it will proceed to court again to be looked at or dropped.
“There is no clear description of the charges. There seems to be two charges, one is contempt of religion and the other is attacking religion. For contempt of religion the usual punishment is five years imprisonment and the other charge can be anything between 24 hours and three years,” said Al-Assiuty.
Whilst the teacher may face jail, the students, being under 18 years, will not go to prison but could still receive suspended prison sentences.
“There is a possibility that the court might think that the whole thing is not important and drop the case, but we still don’t know,” Al-Assiuty said, commenting that usually “contempt of religion charges are harsh and absurd”.
In May, a Coptic man from a Beni Suef village was displaced from his home alongside other family members after being accused of posting a video to Facebook insulting Islam. It was decided he should leave in the same manner, by a meeting of elders of the village.
Speaking on the case, Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) told Daily News Egypt: “The violations of people who express their religious opinions and the persecution of minorities is ongoing in Egypt. It increases when individuals are accused of insulting religion, as usually the trials in these cases are not fair.”
Most reported cases of individuals charged with insulting religion are among Christians and atheists. Also in May, Daily News Egypt reported on the case of Beshoy Armia, a convert to Christianity, who has been incarcerated since 2013, most latterly for insulting Islam, in what his lawyer says is ongoing political and religious persecution.
“The charges for insulting religion are very vague and do not define which acts can be considered insulting or not. For instance if an imam said that all Christians are kuffar [apostates], would this be considered insulting? Anyone who openly calls for violence and hatred should be the only ones charged,” Ibrahim said.