The four Coptic teenagers who were in February 2016 sentenced to five years in prison for disdaining Islam, are now in Switzerland on visas granted for humanitarian purposes, and are said to be applying for asylum. The teenagers come from the village of al-Nassriya in Beni Mazar, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo.
Following news circulated on social media that the teenagers had left Egypt and were now in Switzerland, Watani called their families who confirmed the news but said they had no idea of the details of how the young men had been able to get there. They said that the four teenagers: Albeir Ashraf, Bassem Maged, Moller Atef and Clinton Magdi had been on the run since they were sentenced, and that their families had been getting sporadic, infrequent calls from them. They were able to go to Turkey, a family member told Watani where they remained for five months, then went to Switzerland. As to how all these movements took place, the families said they did not know.
The story goes back to April 2015 when the four teenagers from the village of Nassriya had while on a fun trip acted a half-minute sketch that was sarcastic of the Daesh beheading of 20 Copts and one Ghanaian Christian in February 2015. The sketch depicted the Islamists praying, then beheading their victims. The four teenagers were arrested together with the 35-year-old teacher Gad Youssef who captured the sketch on video on his mobile phone. The video was discovered by the Muslim villagers when they found the memory card Mr Youssef had lost. At the time, the Copts in Nassriya were victim to a fierce attack by fundamental Muslims who screamed insults against Christians and Christianity and pelted the Copts’ homes with stones, knocking threateningly on their doors and windows and damaging a Copt-owned photo studio, pharmacy, and a number of houses.
Following two months in detention, the teenagers and the teacher were released on bail, but Mr Youssef was handed a three-year prison sentence on 30 January 2016. He is in hiding, and his case is being appealed.
Late last month the Minya misdemeanours juvenile court sentenced three of the Coptic teenagers to five years in prison each, and ordered the fourth to be placed in a juvenile institution for the same period of time, for disdain of Islam.
The children had, after being released from detentin, fled the village to some unknown place or places. The families were in shock, and feared that their children would never be able to complete their schooling or go on to university, even though all of them are top ranking students in their classes. Three of them are secondary school students; the fourth is in university studying agriculture.
Disregarding the beheading
The children’s lawyer Maher Naguib had appealed the court sentence. It is not clear whether or not he will persist in his court case now that the children are seeking asylum.
Mr Naguib’s appeal is based on what he says that the reports on which the judges had based their judgement were inadequate; one was issued by the public prosecutor’s office in Beni Mazar, and the other by the State’s Broadcast and TV Union (BTVU). The details are not the same in the two reports, Mr Naguib says, claiming that the one issued by the BTVU includes additions not on the original footage. More important, both reports focused only on the manner in which the boys depicted the Muslim prayers; the BTVU report volunteers the opinion that: “the young men are sarcastically ridiculing Muslim prayers and the manner in which Muslims pray.”
The two official reports, according to Mr Naguib, omitted mentioning that the footage included the boys’ depiction of the Daesh beheading, thus taking the ‘prayers’ out of context. Mr Naguib said he had requested of the court to view the video footage first-hand, but the court declined, possibly on grounds that it already had two reports from two different States authorities.
The case has outraged Egyptian liberals, seculars and, predictably, Copts. The disdain of religion law came under fire, with many calling for its annulment. Apart from the claim that it undermines the freedom of expression upheld by the Constitution, it carries—owing to the fact that its articles are ambiguous and ill-defined—the potential of being used as a snare for anyone who dares venture on any discussion even remotely connected to religion. Watani explored the issue in detail in two articles: “The sword of Damocles that hangs over Copts”, 19 April 2015; and “Liberals vs disdain”, 7 February 2016.
6 September 2016