Egyptian Christian Teacher Accused of Blasphemy Released on Bail

An Egyptian Christian teacher who claims to have been falsely accused of denouncing Islam has been released on bail after being imprisoned in the southern city of Luxor.

Dimiana Abdel-Nour, a 24-year-old history and geography teacher, was originally ordered by a judge to remain in jail for 14 days pending an investigation, but the young teacher reportedly paid a fee of LE 20,000 ($2,870) to be freed while the investigation takes place.

Abdel-Nour was arrested last week after parents of three children attending her class at the Sheikh Sultan Primary School in Luxor complained that she had insulted Islam by saying the recently deceased Coptic Pope Shenouda was better than the Prophet Muhammad.

According to Daily News Egypt, the young teacher also reportedly told the students that Pope Shenouda performed more miracles than the Prophet Muhammad, and additionally conveyed nausea when speaking about the prophet.

Abdel-Nour contested these reports, arguing that she believes Muslim extremists encouraged students to make these false claims against her, especially because many of her students denied that the young teacher had ever insulted Islam.

Ahmed Ezzat, legal director of the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, an advocacy group which seeks to protect against religious discrimination, told the Daily News Egypt that Abdel-Nour's steep bail fine serves as a punishment inflicted by Prosecutor General Tala'at Abdallah.

"This bail price is completely arbitrary. When you are forced to pay this much money it is not procedure, it is punishment," Ezzat said of the bail.

Ezzat previously represented Alber Saber, a young, atheist blogger sentenced to three years imprisonment for blasphemy and contempt for religion after he was accused in September of promoting the short film "Innocence of Muslims," which many argued mocked Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

Ezzat told Daily News Egypt that Saber's bail was LE 1,000.

Human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International has denounced the imprisonment of Abdel-Nour, who went on a hunger strike to protest the charges days ago, and was temporarily sent to a hospital before she posted her bail.

The organization called it "outrageous that a teacher finds herself behind bars for teaching a class," adding that deviation from a curriculum would have required an internal investigation at most, not an arrest.

Amnesty International agrees with several critics who argue that the presidency of Mohamed Morsi has caused courts to make an example of religious minorities or those who do not agree with the government's agenda.

"In recent months, there has been a notable increase in judicial harassment of opposition activists, bloggers, comedians, protesters, and others," Amnesty International said in a statement, as previously reported by The Christian Post.

"News about fresh charges of insulting President Mohamed Morsi or other officials, or of 'defaming' religion – as well as sweeping arrests of opposition protesters – are now the norm," the organization lamented.

Although Christians make up about 10 percent of the country's population of 84 million, many contend that they have seen more discrimination against religious minorities since Morsi took office nearly a year ago, arguing that he represents the Muslim Brotherhood political party and therefore seeks to empower Muslim citizens while minorities face greater persecution and less civil liberties.

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