By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– An Egyptian court has sentenced a 17-year-old Christian student to three years imprisonment after he posted cartoons on social website Facebook that “mocked Islam”, trial observers said Thursday, April 5.
Gamal Abdou Massoud was also charged with distributing some of his cartoons among school friends in a village in the southern city of Assiut, home to a large Christian population and the hometown of late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda.
The cartoons, published by Massoud in December, prompted Muslim mobs to attack Christians. Several Christian houses were reportedly burned and several Christians were injured in the violence.
“Assiut child’s court [in Upper Egypt province of Assiut] ordered the jailing of Gamal Abdou Massoud … for three years after he insulted Islam and published and distributed pictures that insulted Islam and its Prophet,” the court said in a statement published by Reuters news agency.
Human rights lawyer Negad al-Borai reportedly complained that the jail sentence was the maximum penalty under Egyptian law for such a crime.
It was not immediately clear when and if Massoud would appeal against the sentence.
The case follows previous charges filed against Christians and moderates for blasphemy in recent months, raising concerns among Christians that hardline Islamists are using their newly gained political power to stifle freedom of expression.
On January 9, Christian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, who founded the Free Egyptians political party, was charged with “blasphemy and insulting Islam” when he re-posted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse on the online social networking service Twitter.
Last month, an Egyptian court dismissed one case filed against Sawiris, but other cases remain pending, including charges filed in early February against Adel Imam, Egypt’s leading comic actor, Christians said.
Imam was given a three-month prison sentence by an Egyptian court for “defaming Islam” for a role he played in a 2007 film and is waiting for his appeal to be reviewed, according to trial observers.
“The battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable version,” said Barry Rubin, the director of the Israal-based Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.
“Westerners don’t understand that when that happens anything more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and punishable,” he said in published remarks distributed by advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC). “The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the country’s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no right to free assembly or of the press.”
Tension between Muslims and Christians have increased since the revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Christians say there has been an increase in attacks on churches which they blame on hardline Islamists, though authorities say that local disputes are also to blame.
Egypt has come under international pressure to ensure the rights of its minorities, including Christians, who comprise roughly 10 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of 80 million people.