Charges against two Coptic children in the Upper Egyptian village of Ezbet Marco were dropped following an agreement between local groups on Wednesday.
Mina Nady Farag (10) and Nabil Nady Rizk (nine) were arrested and detained on 2 October after a Salafi sheikh reported them for defacing the Quran.
The sheikh took the children to Ishak Qastour, a local pastor who attempted to diffuse the situation, proclaiming the village’s Christians’ respect for Islam and the Quran, amid denials from the children that they had committed the act. According to Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the sheikh proceeded to report the children to security officials, accusing the boys of ripping two pages from the holy book and urinating on them.
Farag and Rizk were arrested and questioned at Al-Fashn police station, where they repeatedly denied the accusations. They were then transferred to the Beni Suef detention facility and remained there until they were released two days later, but still faced charges.
Their release came after calls from public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, citing the young age of the two defendants.
According to human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, the charges were dropped after a deal was reached between the village’s Muslims, Christians, and security officials.
EIPR has said that there has been a drastic increase in contempt of religion cases, most of which have been directed at Egypt’s Christian minority.
Bishoy Al-Behery, a Coptic schoolteacher, was sentenced to six years in prison last month by a court in Sohag. He was given three years for contempt of religion in response to alleged comments made on his Facebook account, two years for insulting President Mohamed Morsy, and an additional year for insulting a private citizen.
Political activist and blogger Alber Saber was also initially arrested for comments made on social media and currently stands trial for contempt of religion in relation to comments he made on a private video four years ago. He is accuse of rejecting the existence of God, “insulting the Muslim and Christian faiths,” and “claiming humanity originated from nature.”