Egyptian authorities should drop prison sentences against four Coptic Christian teenagers convicted of blasphemy after mocking an Isis video, Human Rights Watch has said.
In February, three of the children were sentenced to five years in a prison and a fourth placed in a juvenile facility for imitating Islamic prayer.
A 30-second clip showed the students pretending to pray, with one kneeling on the floor while reciting verses from the Quran. One ran his hand on another one's throat, mimicking a beheading.
The video was filmed on a mobile phone by a teacher, who is also a Christian. He was sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islam in a separate trial.
“These children shouldn’t face prison for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “The continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government’s claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion.”
The juvenile court, in the town of Bani Mazar in Minya, sentenced Mueller Edward, 17, Bassem Hanna, 16, and Alber Ashraf, 16, to five years in prison, while ordering Clinton Yousef, 17, to be placed in a juvenile facility.
“They are just teenagers,” said Mr Edward’s father. “They were psychologically troubled by the killings of Coptic Christians in Libya and went for entertainment. They didn’t deliberately intend any offense…. How can you try someone for mocking Isis.”
He added: “They didn’t talk much about what happened inside…We were just happy they got out. My son got 98 per cent in the high school exams, even though they were taking the exams inside the police station. He wants to study medicine. He’s loved by his Muslim colleagues. They were the first ones to warn us that something bad might happen.”
Human Rights Watch also called on Egyptian authorities to revoke the penal code used to prosecute blasphemy.
The organisation claim a flurry of recent blasphemy cases in Egypt is part of a culture of intolerance within the judicial system at a time when President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is seeking to position himself as an advocate for religious reform.
Additional reporting by Associated PressReuse content