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Teacher Accused of Blasphemy in Egypt Released on Bail

Morning Star News | Published: May 15, 2013

Teacher Accused of Blasphemy in Egypt Released on Bail

Photo: Dimyana Obeid Abd Al-Nour, a first-year teacher accused of insulting Islam

CAIRO, Egypt (Morning Star News) – A Coptic Christian teacher in Egypt accused of committing blasphemy and evangelizing in school was released yesterday after posting nearly $3,000 in bail.

A judge reversed a May 11 order that elementary social studies teacher Dimyana Obeid Abd Al-Nour remain in jail for 15 days after she posted bail of 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$2,864). She awaits a court hearing next week to see if she will be formally charged with a crime, rights advocates said.

Mohammed Noubi, a human rights advocate with the Luxor office of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), who is working with Al-Nour’s lawyers, said Al-Nour was at home struggling under the weight of the accusations and investigation.

“The situation is really bad; she is emotionally devastated,” Noubi said.

Her court hearing is set for Tuesday (May 21), according to court documents. The prosecutor general’s office continues its investigation; if attorneys there decide to formally charge her, prosecutors could go forward with a trial the same day.

On April 10, three elementary schoolchildren at Sheikh Sultan Primary School in the village of Al-Edisat, Luxor Province, along with their parents and some teachers, complained to the school administration that Al-Nour had made blasphemous comments while teaching. Two days earlier, she taught a class about the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, later known as Akhenaten, who did away with all other Egyptian gods in favor of sun worship in ancient Egypt.

Al-Nour reportedly expressed her admiration for the former head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the late Pope Shenouda III, in class. In some versions of the alleged incident, she also made comparisons between Shenouda and Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

When the complaint was made, a group of head teachers and parents, known as the School Council, conducted an investigation into the allegations. They found there wasn’t any reliable evidence that Al-Nour had committed any offense, according to EIPR sources.

When the students were questioned, three of them said she had said or done something wrong. The rest of the class however, 10 students in all, said Al-Nour was blameless, EIPR found. A survey of the staff at the school revealed that she was widely respected by her colleagues, according to EIPR.

The School Council’s report was turned into the provincial governor’s office and to the legal department of the local office of the national Ministry of Education, which then conducted its own study; like the School Council, it found no crime had been committed.

The case likely would have been dropped, but two attorneys representing the parents of one student went directly to the prosecutor’s office, obligating officials to conduct their own investigation. In what are known as “hisba cases,” Egyptian law allows citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who has transgressed the “exalted right of God.” Many blasphemy cases are filed in such a manner.

On Thursday (May 9), a judge ordered that Al-Nour be remanded to jail while prosecutors investigated the incident. Two days later, the judge then ordered that she be held for 15 more days, and the order was negated when the family was able to post bail.

During her imprisonment, Al-Nour went on a brief hunger strike, but her family talked her out of it, according to EIPR and Al-Nour’s attorneys. Contrary to reports by multiple media outlets, Al-Nour was never hospitalized because of the hunger strike.

c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.

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Publication date: May 16, 2013

Teacher Accused of Blasphemy in Egypt Released on Bail