CAIRO (AP) — Three Coptic Christian students face charges of insulting Islam and will stand trial this week after appearing in a video mocking Muslim prayers, one of a series of court cases that reflect lingering religious intolerance and Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt.
The students, all in high school, will stand trial on Thursday after their teacher was sentenced to three years in prison after a separate trial over the same charges of insulting Islam, according to lawyer Maher Naguib.
The 30-second video, filmed by the teacher, showed the students pretending to pray with one kneeling on the floor while reciting Quranic verses and two others standing behind him and laughing. One waved his hand under a second’s neck in a sign of beheading.
Naguib said the video came to light in April 2015, shortly after Islamic State militants in Libya beheaded dozens of Egyptian Christians. The video prompted calls by angry Muslims to evict the students and the teacher from their village. They were detained and the teacher and his family were ordered to leave the village after a meeting of the village elders.
“The students couldn’t attend school and remained indoors to avoid insults, beating and harassment,” said Naguib, the lawyer. “This is all because of random and spontaneous action by some youngsters inside a bedroom and for only few seconds.”
Christians make up approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population. They have long complained of discrimination by the Muslim majority. Christians were among main supporters of the army chief-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi when he led the military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi amid mass protests against Morsi’s rule.
The case comes at a time Egypt has witnessed a surge in blasphemy charges in recent months whereas el-Sissi has vowed to purge extremism and modernize Egypt’s religious discourse.