Egypt frees 2 Coptic boys held for Quran defiling

Associated Press Modified: October 4, 2012 at 4:32 pm •  Published: October 4, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities on Thursday released of two Coptic Christian boys taken into in juvenile detention for allegedly urinating on the Quran, but they will remain under investigation, a security official said.

Even as news spread that the boys would be freed, their village remained tense.

According to priest in the village, located in the province of Beni Suef south of Cairo, local leaders of Gamaa Islamiya — once a prominent militant group — took to mosques, rallying Muslims to rise up against the order to release the boys.

"I don't know why they are inciting people now. Right now, villagers from outside our place are gathering," the priest said, adding, "God help us."

However a neighbor who tried to resolve tension said that Islamists from outside the village came and held a conference in the mosque calling for revenge for insulting the Quran, but security officials intervened and prevented escalation. The priest and the resident spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Rights groups say allegations of contempt of religion are on the increase. Many are made against Coptic Christians, showcasing the tenuous position of a minority estimated to make up 8 to 10 percent of the population.

Some of the accusations are made by members of radical Islamist groups, whose political clout has risen since the 2011 popular uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.

A flurry of criminal investigations in recent weeks comes amid heightened tensions over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States, which sparked protests across the Muslim world.

The most recent case is a rare example of minors being accused of contempt of religion. Local cleric Sheik Gamal Shamardal said residents of the village of Ezbat Marco saw the boys, ages 9 and 10, bring pages of the Quran behind a local mosque and urinate on them.

Police on Tuesday arrested the boys, and a crowd of angry residents gathered outside the police station. Fearing violence, security forces surrounded the village and the boys were taken to a nearby juvenile detention facility.

The neighbor said that the boys are illiterate and could not have recognized the Quran.

"We brought one boy and asked him if he knew this is the Quran. He didn't know it was the Quran. He can't even read or write, like most kids in the village. They are illiterate and even those who go to school don't know how to read. If you bring a Quran, he wouldn't recognize it," he said.

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