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Egypt: authorities should release Coptic Christian teacher detained for 'blasphemy'

24-year-old Dimyana Obeid Abd Al Nour accused of touching her stomach or knee when speaking of Prophet Muhammad

A Coptic Christian teacher detained in Egypt on charges of “defamation of religion” must be immediately released and the criminal case against her dropped, Amnesty International has said.

Dimyana Obeid Abd Al Nour, 24, has been in custody since 8 May when she went to the public prosecution’s office in Luxor to respond to charges of “defamation of religion”. The case against her is based on a complaint lodged by the parents of three of her students alleging that she insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad during a class.

The alleged incident took place at the Sheikh Sultan primary school in Tout, Luxor Governorate on 8 April during a lesson on “religious life”. According to information available to Amnesty, some of the students alleged that Dimyana Obeid Abd Al Nour said that she “loved Father Shenouda”, the late Patriarch of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, and touched her knee or her stomach when she spoke about the Prophet Muhammad in class. She has denied the charges, and maintained that she stuck to the school curriculum.

After a number of parents allegedly made verbal complaints, the school and the local Department of Education apparently launched their own internal investigations. At the Department of Education, Dimyana Obeid Abd Al Nour was told to refrain from teaching in schools pending the outcome of the investigation. Until her detention, Dimyana Obeid Abd Al Nour, who has been teaching at three schools in Luxor since the beginning of the year, continued receiving her salary. On Saturday she was ordered to remain in detention for another 15 days, pending investigations.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“It is outrageous that a teacher finds herself behind bars for teaching a class. If she made some professional mistake, or deviated from the school curriculum, an internal review should have sufficed.

“The authorities must release Dimyana Obeid Abd Al Nour immediately and drop these spurious charges against her.

“It is not a crime to speak one’s mind on a religion, whether it is their own or that of someone else. Any laws barring such speech violate freedom of expression, and are in breach of Egypt’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

In recent months, Amnesty received numerous reports of individuals accused and convicted of blasphemy in Egypt. In some instances, accusations are levelled against bloggers or media professionals whose ideas are “deemed offensive”.

On 25 January, a Cairo court upheld a lower court’s verdict against another Coptic Christian, Alber Saber Ayyad, sentencing him to three years’ imprisonment for “defamation of religion” in relation to videos and other material he posted online which the court deemed “offensive”. In other cases, in particular in Upper Egypt, blasphemy accusations have been levelled against Coptic Christians, including several teachers.

On numerous occasions, Amnesty has called on the Egyptian authorities not to prosecute individuals based on blasphemy laws which criminalise criticism of or insult to religious beliefs.

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