In the video, the Egyptian Christian teens laugh playfully as a couple of them kneel down, imitating Muslim prayers, then another slides his hand under one boy’s neck, imitating the trademark beheadings of the Islamic State group.
The boys were playing around, satirizing the extremist group, and their school supervisor just happened to be videoing them, their defenders say. The result has been catastrophic: they were sentenced to prison under Egypt’s blasphemy laws — they were mocking Muslim prayers, prosecutors said — and have fled into hiding, leaving behind shattered families.
“My son was sentenced to five years for a laugh,” Iman Aziz, weeping, said in the teens’ home village of Nassariya in southern Egypt. Her son, Muller Atef, was seen in the 32-second video laughing but not joining in the “prayers.”
The verdict last month points to an irony in Egypt. Two years ago, the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power, and since then the government has been waging a harsh crackdown on Islamists.
Yet in the past three years, prosecutions on charges of insulting Islam have risen dramatically. From three such cases in 2011, there were 21 cases in the courts in 2015, around half targeting Christians, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.