ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – A Coptic woman has lost her appeal of what human rights activists call a false conviction for blaspheming Islam and has been sentenced to six months in an Egytian prison.
The appellate court ruling, handed down on Sunday (June 15), shocked the Christian woman, 25-year-old Demyana Abd al-Nour, her family and human rights advocates. As Al-Nour fled the country last year, the ruling practically guarantees that she will spend the rest of her life in exile from Egypt.
Al-Nour originally had been sentenced to pay a fine of 100,000 Egyptian pounds (US$14,270), an exorbitant amount that her family could not pay. The judge in the Luxor Court of Appeals, Chancellor Ahmed Abd-Al Maksoud, replaced the fine with the prison sentence.
Ebed Abd Al-Nour, her father, said she was “devastated” by the decision.
“She hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve this,” he said. “This sentence has ruined her future.”
Safwat Samaan, chairman of Nation Without Borders, a human rights and development group headquartered in Luxor, Egypt, said the case for Al-Nour’s acquittal was overwhelming. He and other human rights activists in Egypt expected a full acquittal.
“The ruling is unfair and discriminatory,” Samaan said. “Nobody, not the lawyers, myself, the family – nobody expected that she would be sentenced to prison. They all thought she would be found innocent.”
The appeals court ruling devastated Al-Nour’s parents, he said.
“They were hoping for justice, for real justice in Egypt, but that sentence destroyed all their hopes,” Samaan said.
There is one more chance for appeal in the Court of Cassation, but Samaan said that because Al-Nour must be in prison to appeal and the legal process would take longer than her sentence, she will now apply for political asylum, likely in France. Her parents lack money for a trip outside of Egypt to see their daughter, rights activists said.
“She will never be able to see her family again,” Samaan said.
The verdict sent ripples of shock through the Christian community in Egypt, he said.
“It’s a big shock for the Copts, too,” he said. “Anyone can be accused of anything and be given a big prison sentence for it, too.”
On April 10, 2013, a small group of Islamist parents and teachers at Sheikh Sultan Primary School in the village of Al-Edisat, Luxor Province accused Al-Nour of blaspheming Islam and its prophet, Muhammad.
The group clamed that she taught coursework that cast aspersions on the purported uniqueness of Islam’s proclamation of being a monotheistic religion. They also claimed that Al-Nour compared the late Coptic Pope Shenouda III in favorable terms to Islam’s founding prophet – allegedly going so far as to make a gesture of disapproval when speaking the prophet’s name, Muhammad.
From the start, the accusations were riddled with inconsistences and seemed to be religiously motivated, human rights activists said. Three students claimed that Al-Nour had spoken against Muhammad or made rude gestures against him, but the testimony identifying what gesture she allegedly made and what she allegedly said did not match up between the three students, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Also, the rest of the students in the class, 10 in all, said she never even mentioned the late pope or Muhammad. One of the students who testified against Al-Nour was later found to be absent from class the day the alleged incident took place, according to Egyptian human rights group The Maspero Youth Union.
One student in Al-Nour’s class, whose father is the head of the parents council, testified that at least one teacher, a Muslim extremist, went into the classroom after the complaint was filed against her and told students to say that she had insulted Muhammad.
A review by school administrators found that Al-Nour, a first-year social studies teacher at the school, hadn’t insulted Islam and was well respected by fellow staff members and liked by her students. In court, the lead administrator for Al-Nour’s school testified three times that she had not committed blasphemy.
Despite testimony to the contrary, a judge convicted Al Nour on June 11, 2013 of violating Article 98f of the Egyptian Criminal Code.