05/17/2013, 00.00
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Islamist judges and blasphemy charges, new weapons against Christians and secularists

The case of Dimyana Ubeid Abdel al-Nour, a Christian teacher accused of insulting Islam, is raising concerns across the country. Backed by Islamist Prosecutor General Talaat Abdhallah, more and more judges accept complaints for blasphemy and proselytising.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Judges affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist imams are jeopardising the safety and survival of Egypt's Coptic Christians, sources, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews. Backed by controversial Attorney General Talaat Abdhallah, more and more judges are in fact accepting allegations of blasphemy and insults to religion.

"The presence of radical imams in mosques in Upper Egypt villages is another problem," one source said. "They incite the largely illiterate population against Christians."

Minority Copts have in fact become the victims of assault, arsons and bombings on a daily basis. The latest case occurred on Wednesday in a village in Minya District (Upper Egypt) where a mob of more than 2,000 Muslims attacked Coptic-owned shops and homes and tried to burn down the local church, which is dedicated to St Theodore Coptic.

"Copts have lived with these problems for years," the source added, "which are often resolved through the intervention of religious authorities, and reconciliation. However, the rising number of complaints about blasphemy or proselytising is a reason of concern. In fact, judges once were reluctant to deal with such complaints out of fear that they might spark sectarian violence, now blasphemy charges are one of the easiest ways to attack the Christian minority thanks to the support of Islamist officials."

In recent weeks, the case of Dimyana Ubeid Abdel al-Nour (pictured) become front-page news. The 23-year-old Christian teacher at a primary school in Luxor was arrested on 8 May for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in class.

Faced with a large number of calls for her release, Prosecutor General Abdhallah freed her on bail (US$ 2,900), a huge sum for the young woman's family. Yet, Dimyana is still in prison where she begun a hunger strike ahead of her trial on 21 May.

Dimyana's legal ordeal began on 8 April 2012. The young teacher taught at the Shaikh Sultan Primary School and on that day was covering polytheism, religious life at the time of the pharaohs, and how Pharaoh Akhenaten had adopted monotheism. The lesson also touched on the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. During the class, the subject inspector was also present but he left ten minutes before the session ended.

Two days later, the school suspended the teacher after three children accused her of defaming Islam and praising the Gospel. In the following days, three separate committees as well as the school director questioned her.

The parents of some children had claimed that the teacher had compared Muhammad and the late Patriarch Shenouda III, judging the latter better than the former. However, from the start, Dimyana denied the allegations.

After questioning, all three committees cleared her. However, under pressure from parents and other teachers, the school brought the case to the attention of the Education Ministry, which opened a file against the teacher.  On 8 May, she arrested.

Moderate Muslims have also caught in cases of lèse-religion, especially journalists and television commentators. The most famous case involves Bassem Yousef, the Egyptian Jon Stewart, who was arrested and later released after the Muslim Brotherhood complained that he had insulted Islam, a charge he has always rejected as false. His trial has been set for September. In recent months. (S.C.)

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