No legal basis to 'anti-Islam' charges for Coptic boys: rights defender

Ahram Online , Thursday 4 Oct 2012

Egyptian Coalition on Children's Rights denounces detention of two Christian children accused of ripping up Quran, calls for revision of children's rights in Egypt's upcoming constitution

Egyptian Coalition on Children's Rights logo

The Egyptian Coalition on Children's Rights (ECCR) issued a statement Thursday strongly condemning the arrest of two Coptic Christian children, aged just nine and ten, for "insulting religion" in the upper Egyptian governorate of Beni Suef.

The two boys, Nabil Nagy Rizk, 10, and Mina Nady Farag, 9, from Ezbet Marco village, were detained on Tuesday at the Beni Suef juvenile centre, after local village Iman Ibrahim Mohamed Ali accused them of tearing up pages of the Quran.

The attorney-general subsequently discharged the boys on Thursday but failed to acquit them, telling Ahram Online that a condition of the release was that their parents sign documents promising the boys will return for further questioning.

The rights group statement warned against actions which escalated religious tensions in Egypt and in particular "using children as part of the conflict to ignite sectarian strife."

ECCR General Secretary Hani Helal told Ahram Online that the case had no legal basis.

"The trial is null and void given that the accusations against the children have not been proven," Helal explained, adding that Beni Suef court itself should face legal action for carrying out the order to detain the boys.

ECCR went to the general-prosecutor's office earlier on Thursday to demand their release, particularly as no official state body is overseeing the children's current legal predicament.

Consequently, Helal confirmed, the ECCR legal unit is working on the case. Mina Nady Farag's family has agreed to allow the organisation to represent them. 

"These events highlight the need to revise children's rights in the upcoming constitution and to protect their rights as enshrined in international treaties that Egypt is signatory to."

Helal further stressed that it is crucial that religious groups and figures stop igniting the issue by calling for further penalties.

 "Such an incident, the attempt to ignite sectarian strife, is creating a state of fear for Egypt's minors and also for the country at large," he stated.

Helal warned that while authorities have released statements condemning recent incidents of discrimination against Coptic Christians, the perpetrators have yet to be penalised.

The events in Beni Suef come after a wave of similar arrests across Egypt.

Earlier this month in Sohag, a Copt school teacher, Bishoy Kamel, was sentenced to six years in prison for posting cartoons deemed defamatory to Islam and Prophet Mohammed on social-networking site Facebook, as well as for insulting President Mohamed Morsi and his family.  

This followed the arrest of a Coptic man, 25-year-old Albert Saber, on 13 September, who was charged with insulting religion for allegedly posting the controversial anti-Islam short film, Innocence of Muslims, also on his Facebook page.

Saber, who was referred to Marg Misdemeanor Court, is still in detention awaiting trial.

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