Egypt sentenced four Coptic Christian teenagers to five years in prison for “violating Article 98F, Defaming a Revealed (or Heavenly) Religion” (They allegedly posted a video “defaming Islam” on a mobile phone). They were able to escape to Switzerland on asylum via Turkey.
Morning Star News spoke to the teens who fled Egypt in April, and with the help of Christian human rights organizations, lived in a safe house for five months in Istanbul, Turkey. Recently, Switzerland granted them a humanitarian visa “under special circumstances.” One of the teens, Albir Shehata, said,
“In Egypt, no one gets punished for blasphemy against Christians. 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.”
Shehata’s friends, Klenton Faragalla, 18, Moller Yasa, 17, and Bassem Younan, 17, who lived in the Al-Nasriyah village of Egypt, created a 32-second video of someone praying and being slit with a knife across his throat. Their teacher recorded the video with his mobile phone while they were at a youth retreat for Copts. More than just these four boys were in the room. When the teacher misplaced his phone one month later, Muslims in his village found it and told the police.
In response, Muslims began attacking any Coptic Christian they could find. Riots ensued– for days– “as thousands of Muslims from adjacent villages came to Al-Nasriyah to join the looting,” chanting Islamic slogans and demanding that all Christians be kicked out of their village. Even after the riots ended, mobs still marched throughout the streets, threatening Copts.
Morning Star News reported that more than once “mobs surrounded their homes chanting for their deaths.” While Shehata was trapped inside his house, he heard Muslims arguing outside over “who had the right to kill him.” He explained:
“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.”
Their teacher was arrested and later banned from town after a “reconciliation meeting.”
The teens were severely beaten, interrogated, and imprisoned for nearly two months, regularly beaten and given only rotten boiled eggs and bread to eat.
Prison guards and inmates also tried to force them to convert to Islam. One teen, Faragalla said:
“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.’”
After they were released on bail for their trial, they went into hiding in different Egyptian towns and later fled out of Egypt to Turkey.
But even in Turkey they faced persecution because Turks assumed they were Muslims but became enraged when they found out that they were Christians. They were refused employment and one teen was assaulted.
The teens registered with the United Nations for refugee status, after which one organization, Middle East Concern, helped them gain entry visas to a country where they could apply for permanent asylum: “Switzerland was the first and only one to respond positively.”
No such blasphemy laws exist in Egypt against criticism of Christianity or persecution of Christians. In fact, the laws only institutionalize persecution of all non-Muslims.
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