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Coptic Teen Gets 3 Years in Jail for 'Offensive' Muhammad Illustrations

An Egyptian court has sentenced this week a 17-year-old Coptic student to three years in jail for posting drawings of the prophet Muhammad on his Facebook profile in Dec. 2011. The court ruled that the images were offensive to Islam and mocked the prophet.

"Assiut child's court ordered the jailing of Gamal Abdou Massoud ... for three years after he insulted Islam and published and distributed pictures that insulted Islam and its Prophet," a statement issued by the court read, as reported by Reuters.

The images appeared on Massoud's Facebook page in December of last year, and caused riots and attacks on Coptic Christians in his hometown of Assuit, in southern Egypt.

Villagers attacked Massoud's home as well as the homes of other Christians, and security and military forces were reportedly dispersed across Massoud's hometown to prevent further vandalism, firing tear gas at the Muslim protesters.

Several Christian homes were burned during the attacks, and several Christians were injured.

Massoud was also accused of distributing the images to some of his school friends. The teen argued that he did not upload the offensive drawings onto his Facebook account, but rather they were posted without his knowledge.

Tensions between Egypt's Coptic Christians and Muslims have increased greatly since the Arab Spring uprisings of early 2011, which resulted in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak from power.

Since the uprisings, Egypt has seen a mass exodus of Christians, with nearly 100,000 emigrating from the country since March 2011, according to reports.

Critics contend that this strict sentencing is a result of increased Muslim control in Egypt.

After the Arab Spring uprisings, many radical Muslim political parties that had previously remained underground were able to maintain power in the unstable country.

In Feb. 2012, the Islamist political party The Muslim Brotherhood won the most seats in parliament, and critics agree that there is a high probability that Muslims will win the presidential election in May.

"Sadly, the liberal activists who were largely responsible for ousting President Mubarak from power a year ago are now seeing Islamists crush the very freedoms many of them had fought so dearly to defend," Aidan Clay, International Christian Concern's Regional Manager for the Middle East, said in a press release.

Clay argues that cases with strict sentencing such as Massoud's will only become more frequent as Muslims gain more control and power in Egypt.

"As Islamists consolidate government control, it is inevitable that Islam will become a foundational influence within Egyptian law. Currently, the military is perhaps the only force in Egypt stalling the country's complete transition into an Islamic state," Clay argued.

"However, if freedom of speech is already being attacked by Islamists while Egypt's military still holds some power, how much more will it be attacked once Islamists have complete control?" he questioned.

Human Rights lawyer Negad al-Borai told Reuters that Masoud's punishment is the strictest one can receive for this type of crime.

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