In a show of partiality to Muslims who go unprosecuted for similar offenses against Christians, Massoud, a Coptic Christian teenager, was sentenced in juvenile court on April 4th to three years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam; the maximum that he could have received.
Gamal Abdou Massoud, 17, denies the charges. In a Compass Direct News article, the court reportedly claimed that he posted cartoons on his Facebook account in December that mocked the Islamic religion and its prophet, Muhammad. The court also claimed that he distributed the pictures to other students.
After the incident came to light, Muslims in Assuit, where Massoud lives, rioted. The mob fire-bombed his home and burned down at least five other Christian-owned homes in several Assuit villages. Massoud’s family left their village, and it is uncertain if they were ordered out, left because they had no home, or left out of fear.
The sentencing was considered significant not only because it violates the free speech clauses of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Egypt is a signatory, but also because it shows another area where justice is executed unequally between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. The sentencing also shows that rights are given to the Christian minority in Egypt only when Islamic sensitivities are not involved. Coptic Christians claim that the laws are ignored when Muslim public figures violate Egyptian laws related to insulting Christianity, which happens often; but when Christians are accused of violating the same laws against Islam, even a minor is usually punished to the full extent of the law, such as in Massoud’s case.
The court also held Massoud responsible for inciting the riots. No one however, who was responsible for burning down any of the homes, has been charged. Samia Sidhom, managing editor at Watani newspaper in Cairo, said the sentencing was a clear example of the double standard. Sidhom also called into question the veracity of the charges. She said her reporters could find no evidence that Massoud even had a Facebook page, calling him “almost computer illiterate.”
This is the third high-profile case of “insulting Islam” to be brought to court against Copts in Egypt in roughly a month. On March 3, a Cairo court dismissed a case against Naguib Sawaris, a Copt and telecommunications tycoon, who was accused of insulting Islam for placing a cartoon of Minnie Mouse in a veil on his Facebook site as a satirical comment on what Egypt would look like if Islamists gained political power in the country.
Two weeks later, on March 16, a group of Muslim lawyers blocked off a courtroom where Makram Diab, a Coptic Christian, was trying to launch an appeal against a six-year prison term levied against him for insulting Islam. A Salafi Muslim brought the accusations against him after the two had a quarrel at a school where the two worked. Sentenced six days after authorities arrested him; Diab was not even allowed to have a defense attorney present at his original court hearing. His appeal is pending.
Lord, You know what it means to be insulted unjustly, to be accused and convicted when You were entirely innocent. You took on the penalty of our sin. Today, we pray for Massoud and other Christians who are unfairly treated. Let them know the assurance that You stand beside them in court and in prison. Give them courage and hope, of their reward in heaven and of Your presence with them in this life. In the name of Jesus, who suffered and died, that we might live. Amen.