Three young Coptic men were released Monday in Alexandria, after being detained on charges of contempt for religion and preaching for Christianity. They were released on a bail of EGP 10,000 each pending trial on the same night, but revealed they were actually arrested while distributing dates to fasting Muslims around iftar.
According to the testimony of Stephen Botros, he received a phone call from a friend informing him a third person was arrested at 7pm, when Muslims break their fast with the sunset during Ramadan.
Their arrested friend was in the streets distributing dates to people, a common practice by young men in many Arab countries.
“Our friend had been stopped by some chief editor of the Sports Square newspaper. He assaulted him, photocopied his ID card then took him to Sidi Gaber security check,” Botros posted Tuesday on his Facebook account.
He stated that he and his friend then rushed to the location and found the “claimant acting as if he was a police officer, using their mobile phones and threatening our friend, who was only giving out dates”, he continued.
As the young man was taken to Montazah police station, his friends followed him there.
“As soon as we arrived police officers told us ‘you belong with the dates guy’ and ordered our detention. We were astonished by how policemen let the claimant do as he pleased and open our bags to search for criminal evidence,” Botros stated.
Mocking the fact that evidence was one more bags of dates, Botros added that they found copies of a booklet of “Jesus teachings”. He claimed that a police report was fabricated against the three, despite that two of them had not been present at the scene.
Their parents did not hear from them for four hours, as police confiscated their phones and referred them to prosecution authorities. According to Botros’ the three were questioned for two days consecutively by the ‘national security’ and are now facing charges.
Their defence lawyer, the renowned Naguib Gebrail, told Daily New Egypt Tuesday that there was no such crime as “preaching” in the law. Commenting on the incident, he said that it was “unfortunate how those young men have been dealt with, which shows there is still intransigence towards Egyptian Copts”.
Gebrail said the young men should have been praised for their behaviour, as they were helping out their fellow citizens, and that the “booklets” they had were just included phrases on love and forgiveness. “When Jesus is mentioned in Islam, this is how he is portrayed, that is all,” he added.
“If we had been caught with alcohol or drugs, I think we would have gotten better treatment,” Botros said at the end of his post, adding that “they were only doing a good deed and that malicious attempts for sectarianism will never succeed”.
According to the Egyptian penal code, ‘contempt of religion’ is a crime punishable under Egyptian law. The prison sentence varies between six months to five years, along with a fine between EGP 500 and EGP 1,000.
The legal text stated potential damage resulting from committing the crime as “harming national unity and social order”, which explains why National Security investigates such cases.
Amongst the public figures who faced the accusation were satirist Bassem Youssef and writer Fatima Naoot.