The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked that the five-year jail sentences against the three Coptic Christian teenagers for blasphemy be overturned.
They requested that Egypt should uphold its promise to protect religious minorities, and called for legislation used to prosecute blasphemy to be revoked.
HRW’s deputy Middle East director, Nadim Houry “These children shouldn’t face prison for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke. The continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government’s claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion.”
The Christian teenagers are identified as Mueller Edward, 17, Bassem Hanna, 16, and Alber Ashraf, 16 and they are still in high school.
The three were charged with blasphemy after being filmed by their teacher pretending to pray while reciting verses from the Qur’an in January 2015. The students are shown in the video laughing and one appears to pretend to slit the throat of another, apparently mocking ISIS-style beheadings.
Maher Naguib, the lawyer representing the teenagers said they were sentenced for contempt of Islam and inciting sectarian strife.
“The judge didn’t show any mercy, he handed down the maximum punishment.”
“They were charged under article 98(f) of Egypt’s penal code, which outlaws contempt of religion, as well as articles 160 and 161, concerning the public conduct of religious rituals, even though the video was filmed in private, HRW said.
“A fourth defendant, 17-year-old Clinton Yousef, was sent to a juvenile detention centre for an indefinite period. The teacher, Gad Younan, had previously been sentenced to three years in prison for his role.”
One of the children’s father said the teens were psychologically troubled by the killings of Coptic Christians in Libya and went for entertainment.
“They didn’t deliberately intend any offence,” he added. “How can you try someone for mocking ISIS?”
Not less than 28 human rights groups and political parties in Egypt have condemned the rulings. They have urged the government to repeal article 98(f), which has led to a rise in prosecutions for blasphemy under President Al-Sisi.
“Mocking ISIS, or any religious group, with a childish joke is not a crime, Instead of giving in to retrograde views on blasphemy; Egyptian authorities should protect freedom of expression.”