Two Coptic kids face trial in Egypt over ‘insulting Islam’

AFP Photo / Cris Bouroncle
Two Coptic boys aged 9 and 10 are awaiting trial after an Islamic cleric accused them of tearing up and urinating on the Koran. The boys’ families say the boys are illiterate and found the Koran pages while playing with garbage.

­Sheik Gamal Shamardal, a Muslim cleric and the local leader of a hardline Islamist group, referred two local boys to police in the village of Ezbet Marco in the southern province of Beni Suef. He claimed that neighbors saw Nabil Nagy Rizk, 10, and Mina Nady Farag, 9, take pages of the Koran behind a local mosque and urinate on them.

Before turning to the authorities, Shamardal took the two to their Coptic church, but, he says, the priest dismissed the incident as “child’s play” which was not meant as an offense.

Rizk’s father later pleaded that the boys are illiterate; they were playing with garbage looking for “something useful” in a bin when they found a white bag with some tarnished pages. They put their finding next to the mosque as they did not know what to do with it.

As police arrested the boys on Tuesday and took them to a juvenile facility, an angry crowd gathered around the police station. Security forces had to call in more staff, fearing clashes between Muslims and Copts. Thursday, the boys were released "due to their young age", but no acquittal followed.

A Coptic activist and lawyer said President Mohamed Morsi had to intervene to have the kids freed.

I submitted a request to President Morsi… and the president gave instructions for the prosecutor to release the two children,” Naguib Guebrail told Agence France Presse. The president ruled the detention breached international conventions on children’s rights that have been signed by Egypt.

If the charges have not been dropped, the boys will have to face prosecutors again on Sunday. Police said so far it is only clear that the boys were caught with tarnished pages of the Koran, but no one actually saw them urinating on them.

‘Blasphemous act arranged’?

Shamardal says a mere apology is “not acceptable". He speculates over a wider range of conspiracy behind the “blasphemous act.” He feels “like it was arranged” to incite religious anger – by local Copts or even by foreign religious groups.

Accusations of insulting Islam have increased in Egypt after an amateur US-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammed sparked fury in the country last month, the Associated Press remarks. Most prosecuted come from Christian minorities, but taking children into custody is a rarity even at this time.

Earlier this month Coptic school teacher Bishoy Kamel was sentenced to six years in jail for posting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, deemed defamatory, on his Facebook page. Another Coptic man, Albert Saber, is still in custody awaiting trial after being charged with posting the US inflammatory film, Innocence of Muslims, on his Facebook account.

On the other hand, offenders of Christianity are also prosecuted. For example, an Islamic preacher is on trial for tearing up and burning a copy of the Bible during the September protests against the film Innocence of Muslims.