The international rights observer Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian government Monday to quash prison sentences handed to four minors over ‘religious contempt’ charges and to “revoke the penal code article that authorities use to prosecute blasphemy”.
The minors were charged with “mocking Islamic prayer rituals” and publishing a video “which disrupts public order”. A Minya juvenile court sentenced the four high school students, Muller Atef, Bassem Amgad, Alber Ashraf, and Clinton Magdy, to five years in prison on 25 February, with the latter ordered to be placed in a juvenile correctional facility.
HRW’s deputy Middle East director Nadim Houry said “these children shouldn’t face prison-time for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke”, according to the organisation’s statement.
The case relates to a video showing the young defendants performing an Islamic prayer, as one of them pretended to execute another in imitation of real video footage from the terrorist group “Islamic State” (IS).
Houry criticised the Egyptian government by saying “the continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government’s claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion”.
The four minors, and their teacher who was sentenced to three years in prison, were handed verdicts based on Article 98 (f) of the penal code, which punishes blasphemy with a maximum of 5 years in prison and minimum fine of EGP 500, stating “whoever makes use of religion in propagating, either by words, in writing, or in any other means, extreme ideas for the purpose of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity”.
Twenty-eight NGOs and political parties condemned the verdict against the minors saying that this ruling in addition to previous ones “reveal the real intentions towards freedom of religion, belief, thought, and expression”.
They also called on the parliament to reverse the aforementioned penal code article, noting that the verdict against the Minya minors comes under the continuation of working with laws that violate articles of the constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which Egypt is a state party.