Court convicts teacher for blasphemy

2013-06-11 22:33

Egypt - A court in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor on Tuesday found a Christian primary school teacher guilty of blasphemy and ordered her to pay a fine of 100 000 Egyptian pounds ($14 300).

The families of three schoolchildren had filed complaints against Demiana Abd al-Nour, accusing her of insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson.

The court did not specify how Abd al-Nour had committed blasphemy.

Amnesty International, a pressure group, said it had been informed that several students had complained after the teacher expressed her devotion to Pope Shenouda, the late Patriarch of the Egyptian Orthodox Church. Unconfirmed Egyptian and international media reports said she was accused of saying that the patriarch was better than the prophet.

The court rejected requests by Abd al-Nour's legal team to hear witnesses in person.

Ten other schoolchildren as well as the headmaster and the head of the school parent's council had insisted the accusations were unfounded, according to press reports and rights groups.

The case is the latest in a series in which Egyptian Christians have been found guilty of insulting Islam on the basis of complaints by Muslim citizens.

A Christian lawyer was sentenced to one year's imprisonment 10 days ago in the southern city of Assiut on similar charges.

Sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population, are particularly high in the largely poor and rural south.

A researcher with an Egyptian rights group which followed the case told dpa that there was "a wave of blasphemy trials" which were "an attack on personal freedom and the freedom of opinion".

"The accused in these cases do not receive their rights in the courts," Ishaq Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said.

"There can be pressure on the courts from Islamist lawyers involved in the cases. Sometimes there are demonstrations outside the courts."

Ibrahim added that the applicable law does not provide for a fine of any more than 500 pounds ($72 dollars) and that an appeal was expected.

Amnesty International had called for Abd al-Nour to be released and the charges against her dropped, saying that it was "outrageous that a teacher finds herself behind bars for teaching a class".