Two Coptic Christian children were arrested and are being held in police custody after a Salafi sheikh reported they defaced a copy of the Quran.
Mina Nady Farag (ten) and Nabil Nady Rizk (nine), from the Ezbet Marco area in southern Beni Suef, were accused by Ibrahim Mohamed, a Salafi sheikh, on Sunday of ripping two pages from the Islamic holy book and urinating on them.
According to Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Mohamed turned the children to a local priest at the Angel Michael church, Ishak Qastour and complained to him about the incident.
Qastour assured Mohamed that all Christians in Ezbet Marco respect Islam and the Quran. The children denied the incident and said they found the pages on the street. According to Ibrahim, one of the children is illiterate.
Mohamed was unsatisfied with Qastour’s response and reported the incident to the police.
“There was a friendly meeting held on Monday at one of the Muslim residents’ house, sponsored by the security forces, in which Muslims and Christians met and affirmed respect for each other,” said Ibrahim.
Nonetheless, the children were arrested and taken to Al-Fashn police station for questioning where they again denied the incident.
According to Adel Ramadan, who is in charge of the contempt of religion file at the EIPR, the children were charged with contempt of religion and transported to a Beni Suef juvenile detention facility.
“The children will likely get lighter sentences because they are under 15 years old but will be subject to the same law that adults are charged under,” said Ramadan.
Ramadan and Ibrahim both said there had been a rapid increase in contempt of religion cases recently.
“These incidents are on the rise and we are seeing an increase in contempt of religion cases and unfortunately most of the cases end up with jail sentences,” said Ibrahim.
Ramadan said there have been about 20 cases and that only two of the cases, those of Abu Islam and Adel Imam, were against Muslims, with the rest being Coptic Christians who were charged.
He believes the problem started when the public prosecution started “playing the role of religious courts,” which have led to these “inquisition tribunals.”
“There are always gatherings outside the prosecution or trial as well which results in popular pressure meaning we cannot guarantee a fair trial or investigation,” said Ibrahim.
“We were shocked at the office to hear about children being arrested and facing criminal charges. Pretty soon the elderly will face the same fate. We predict that by the end of the year, hundreds of Egyptians will face trials over contempt of religion,” said Ramdan.