The charges come after a video turned into the police shows the students making harmless comments and one student demonstrating a chopping motion.
The comments were made in private and seemed to be in jest, rather than a serious threat, insult, or disruptive act towards Muslims. Regardless, the Egyptian government has decided to take the children into custody on charges of “insulting Islam.”
The incident occurred while the students and their teacher were on a religious excursion. Apparently, the teacher decided to record a conversation the children were having in the privacy of their hotel room.
A 32 second clip, in Arabic, shows the students citing a few words from Arabic prayers, and making a chopping motion. Somehow the video wound up in the hands of the teacher’s neighbors, who then turned it into the police.
The students and their teacher have been in detention for several weeks already, and if convicted they could spend several years in jail. The students are being held in a youth detention center, while the teacher is being held in a prison.
Owing to the Muslim majority in the country, and tensions between various religious groups and sects, blasphemy laws in Egypt are among the strictest in the world. Theoretically, the laws have been set up to ease tensions between rival groups and to ensure social harmony. In practice, they are frequently used to suppress non-Muslims and critics of Islam.
The children and teacher are members of Egypt’s Coptic community, which is the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and are believed to account for approximately 5 percent of Egypt’s population.
The children were turned over to the police by their parents after protests launched by Muslims swept through their home village, Al-Nasriyah. As many as 2,000 Muslims took to the streets, vowing to avenge Islam, and pelting Christian homes with stones. Christian stores and businesses were also vandalized.
The children and teacher are still in custody of the police. According to Todd Daniels, the regional manager for International Christian Concern, they will likely face trial based on similar cases in the past.