A Christian Egyptian teenager was detained on Monday in Egypt's Mediterranean city of Alexandria after distributing dates for Muslims to break their fast during iftar time, reported local media. Two of his friends were also detained after going to the police station to inquire about him.
The 16-year-old teenager was distributing dates during iftar time for Muslim passers-by to break their fast, when a man assaulted him and took him to the police station after being offended by Christian messages included in the packaging of the dates.
Distributing dates during iftar time is an annual gesture by Egypt's Coptic Christians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to promote religious tolerance.
"The Lord knows all that you go through, for He is the mighty knower, He can lift the burdens off of your shoulders and bring you comfort and joy, for He loves you deeply", the message read.
"I received a call from a friend at 7 pm saying one of our friends, a 16-year-old, was arrested while distributing dates after Mahmoud Abdel Halim Moussa, editor-in-chief of the Midan al-Riyada sports newspaper, assaulted him and took him to the Sidi Bishr police station", said Stephen Botros Fayed, one of the teenager's two friends who were also arrested later, on his Facebook page, which appears to have been deleted shortly after the post was published.
"Our friend was then transferred to the Montaza I police station, where I arrived with the friend who called me to find the police officers saying 'you came with the dates guy?' and giving orders to 'take [us] to detention'."
The three youths were then charged with "contempt of religion" and "modern missionary activity to lure Muslims [into Christianity]".
|"This is what we get for doing good during Ramadan"
- Stephen Botros Fayed
According to Fayed, the "evidence" seized by the police was a bag of dates and a 10-page brochure of the teachings of Christ.
"We were not even there when it happened, and we had nothing to do with it," Fayed said. "Our friend who was arrested at first was only giving out dates".
The youths were later released on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds each ($1,277). However, the case remains open for further investigation by the prosecution.
"All I can say is that if we were arrested in possession of drugs or for drinking alcohol in the street it would have been easier than this intransigent treatment we were subjected to".
"This is what we get for doing good during Ramadan," he added.
The Egyptian Penal Code criminalises contempt of religion and the propagation of atheism in words, writing, or other means, punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, and/or fines of up to 1,000 Egyptian Pounds ($127).