Egyptian prosecutors released two children belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church who had been arrested this week on accusations of blasphemy according to Islamic shariah law. The prosecutor for the town of Beni Suef released the two boys, ages 9 and 10, due to their youth even while they have yet to be absolved. Similar cases have emerged in other Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, where a 14-year-old Christian girl remains in custody for alleged blasphemy, but this is the first time in recent memory that such as charge has been laid in Egypt.
A Salafist imam in the boys’ Nile Delta settlement accused the pair of defacing sheets of paper on which they had supposedly written verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book. They also allegedly urinated on the papers. They were arrested and then held in a juvenile lock-up. In exchange for their release, the parents of Mina Farag and Nabil Rizk have signed affidavits promising that they will appear in court when summoned.
Tensions between Egyptian Muslims and Christians have escalated, especially since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring that brought about the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Within a few days will be marked the anniversary of the Maspero Massacre in which 27 mostly Coptic Christians were murdered by Egypt’s military. Some of the highest-ranking military officers of Mubarak’s deposed government may be investigated should a presiding judge receive 24 outstanding criminal complaints against them. Among the accused is Marhsal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.
Even while numerous witnesses have testified that Egyptian soldiers put down a peaceful protest by Coptic Christians with gunfire and armored vehicles – the majority of the dead were crushed by tanks – and offered graphic testimony, an investigation conducted by Egypt’s military junta has already exonerated the army of any responsibility in the fatal incident.
Other such incidents have marred peace and understanding between Egyptian Christians, a minority, and Muslims. On New Years Day 2011, an explosion rocked a Coptic church in Cairo and killed dozens of worshippers. Rioting ensued and more people died. Other incidents have included the burning of Coptic monasteries and systematic rape and forced conversion of Coptic girls and women by Muslim captors.