Saga of Coptic teacher 'maliciously' accused of insulting Islam ends

Sherry El-Gergawi, Friday 5 Oct 2012

Lawyers proved to police that student who had recently accused Christian school teacher Nevine Gad of insulting Prophet Mohamed had actually been absent from school on the day in question

An Egyptian child during the 25 January Revolution holds the Quran and a cross in Tahrir Square to call for national unity (Photo: Reuters)

A Coptic teacher who was arrested last week on charges of contempt for religion and insulting Prophet Mohamed has been released, and all charges dropped, her lawyer confirmed to Ahram Online.

The case is one of several recent incidents in which Egypt's Coptic minority found itself under fire.

On Thursday, two Coptic boys, aged nine and ten, were released from detention pending the completion of investigation after a Muslim imam accused them of tearing up pages of the Quran in Upper Egypt. Less than two weeks ago  several Coptic families in the city of Rafah in Sinai were forced to flee to Al-Arish after a Coptic shop was attacked and threats allegedly levelled against them by Islamist militants.

Nevine Gad, a social studies teacher at a preparatory school in Manfalout village, in Assiut in Upper Egypt, was explaining a lesson on Islamic history with a section on the life of the Prophet Mohamed in a class on Wednesday last week.

The next day she was told that a pupil, Mohamed Moustafa Ahmed Hashim, had filed a complaint against her, claiming that she had said something offensive about the Prophet.

Following that, more than 20 teachers working with her at the same school also complained about her to the school administration, based on the student's story.

After investigating, the administration dismissed the complaint because of the conflicting accounts of the students from the class, and a lack of evidence. To avoid problems, Gad was suspended from teaching temporarily.

However, on Sunday afternoon, police arrested Gad and took her to an Assiut police station, on charges of contempt of religion and insulting Prophet Mohamed, following a complaint from Moustafa Ahmed Hashim, the student in question's father, who is known locally to be a Salafist.

Gad denied all charges, but was detained and spent the night in a solitary confinement cell, her lawyer told Ahram Online, causing her family great worry as she is eight months pregnant.

The next day, she went before the attorney-general of Assiut, who asked her about the validity of the statements, and she again denied all the allegations.

Lawyer Magdy Farouk told Ahram Online exclusively that during the investigations, he had noticed inconsistencies in the statements and complaints of the student in question.

In addition, Gad remembered that this student was absent on Wednesday and Thursday, and therefore could not have attended the lesson.

"The educational administration in Assiut supplied us with the official student attendance lists for those two showed that the student, Mohamed Moustafa Ahmed Hashim, who accused her, was absent and didn't attend that lesson. The police then released her yesterday [Wednesday] and closed the case file, considering it a malicious complaint," said Farouk.

"Most lawyers had refused to get involved in this case, fearing for their lives, but I agreed to defend her and to attend the investigations with her after I got security guarantees from a well-known businessman from Upper Egypt," he added.

Farouk cited concerns related to a case a month ago when lawyers defending, Bishoy Kamel, another Coptic teacher accused several months ago of contempt of religion, were attacked at the courthouse in Sohag in Upper Egypt.

Since her release, Gad has refused to give any interviews to the media, due to fear and shock regarding her experiences being detained, said Farouk. Her case has received less media coverage than other similar cases, like that of Kamel and Albert Saber.

Coptic rights activist Mina Thabet did manage to meet her, and in her meeting with him she described the moments of her arrest as a moment of horror. She likened her experience to that of Albert Saber, a young Egyptian Copt currently being tried on charges of defaming religion.

"A bitter sense of despair and frustration has taken hold of me, because of what we see every day, from the victims of such accusations," Gad reportedly told Thabet.

Gad said that the "hand of God" had intervened quickly in her situation by sending Coptic businessman Amir Abu Ghali to support her defence.

Ghali has reportedly said that he will take up the cause of those in similar situations.

Thabet stressed that Nevine Gad is the first person to be safely released in these recent cases of religious defamation.

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