“Coptic Teenagers Sentenced in Egypt for ‘Defaming Islam’ in Video Flee to Switzerland,” Morning Star News, September 3, 2016:
Sentenced to prison in Egypt for allegedly insulting Islam in a video, four Coptic teenagers who had taken refuge in Turkey for months on Thursday (Sept. 1) flew to Switzerland to seek asylum.
In exclusive interviews with Morning Star News, the boys said they made their video before the release of the Islamic State (IS) mass execution video they were said to be mocking, and that at the time they had never even heard of the group.
Sentenced to five years in prison, the boys fled Egypt in April and, with the backing of Christian and human rights organizations, lived in secret for five months in a safe house in Istanbul. Two weeks ago, each was granted a humanitarian visa “under special circumstances” to Switzerland, where they will seek asylum.
Albir Shehata, 17, told Morning Star News that the ordeal was unfair and has been crushing, but that the opportunity to start again in Switzerland gives him new hope.
“In Egypt, no one gets punished for blasphemy against Christians,” Shehata said. “There was no reason to be treated that way for something that silly. It was all a joke with the teacher. But now it’s a great feeling, because I feel like I have an opportunity for a better life than what I had in Egypt, because in Egypt my future is ruined. In Switzerland I have an opportunity to make up for it.”
A judge on Feb. 25 sentenced Shehata, Klenton Faragalla, 18, Moller Yasa, 17, and Bassem Younan, 17, all of Al-Nasriyah village in Upper Egypt, to five years in prison for violating Article 98F, Defaming a Revealed (or Heavenly) Religion, in a mobile phone video.
In the 32-second video, Shehata appears for a few seconds kneeling and performing the Salat, the prayer performed five times daily by observant Muslims. Right before the video stops, Younan holds his hand as if it were a knife and draws it across Shehata’s throat. The other two boys shown on camera only wave to the person recording the video and to the other boys.
The boys’ teacher, 43-year-old Gad Younan (no relation to Bassem Younan), recorded the video with his mobile phone on Feb. 14, 2015 at a youth retreat for Copts. Gad Younan was recording everyone in the room, not just the boys, and Shehata and Bassem Younan said neither of them intended to mock Islam in any way; they were merely trying to get the teacher’s attention in a dorm room crowded with Christians by making silly gestures.
Gad Younan later misplaced his phone, and on April 6, 2015, a Muslim in their village found it and played the video.
Word of the video spread rapidly throughout Al-Nasriyah. By the next day, a group of Muslims complained to the police, and on April 8 a mob of enraged Muslims began tearing through the village, beating any Copt they could find.
For three days the rioting raged as thousands of Muslims from adjacent villages came to Al-Nasriyah to join the looting. At least 15 stores were damaged or destroyed. Mobs roamed through Al-Nasriyah chanting Islamic slogans and demanded all Christians be pushed out of the village.
During the rioting, the four boys were terrified for their lives. On more than one occasion mobs surrounded their homes chanting for their deaths. Shehata said that while he was trapped in his home, hiding, he could hear people outside arguing over who had the right to kill him.
“People were arguing over who would get the blessing and honor of killing me, or if they should all join in and have part of the blessing,” he said.
Even after the rioting ended, mobs occasionally formed and marched through the streets, threatening Copts.
The teacher was arrested on April 7, 2015 at his home, one day after the phone was found, and on April 9 the boys were able to get to the village mayor’s house during a lull in the rioting. A detail of soldiers took them to police after telling them they would spend just a few hours at the station to be admonished by authorities and then released, the boys said. Instead, the minors were severely interrogated, beaten and then put in jail.
Conditions in jail were harsh. In addition to being given little other than rotten, boiled eggs and bread to eat, Faragalla said prison guards offered rewards to inmates to beat them, and they did so regularly. The guards and inmates also tried to force them to convert to Islam.
“When I was put in the cell on the first day, the guard told them, ‘These boys dare to insult Islam – show them how we treat people who insult our holy religion,’’ Faragalla said.
As harsh as the treatment was, at times a handful of inmates protected the boys from violence and made sure they had more food.
“God really took care of us,” Shehata said.
After hearings for the trial started, the boys eventually were released on a security bond of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,125) each. In all Shehata, Yasa, and Younan spent a little more than 50 days in jail. Faragalla spent 63.
“We went into a jail for adult prisoners, but we were still children,” Faragalla said. “But we saw people doing hashish and all other sorts of drugs.”…