Human rights groups are calling on Egypt to free three teenagers who were given five-year prison sentences for allegedly mocking Islam.
The teenagers, Mueller Edward, 17, Bassem Hanna, 16, and Alber Ashraf, 16, are Coptic Christians who were made to pray and recite verses from the Quran during a class in January 2015, Christian Today reported.
Their teacher filmed them joking around during the prayers, and one of the boys mocked ISIS by pretending to slit the throat of his friend.
A court found them guilty of contempt of religion, and an Egyptian judge sentenced each to five years in prison. The teacher was also punished, receiving a three-year prison sentence for contempt of Islam, according to The New York Times.
The video was kept under wraps until it was discovered by a classmate, The New York Times reported. When the classmate turned the video over to authorities, they began an investigation. Christians in the country faced backlash when the video was made public.
"These children shouldn't face prison for expressing themselves, even with an immature joke," Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch said. "The continued prosecution of blasphemy cases in Egypt goes against the government's claim to be promoting a more inclusive vision of religion."
Human Rights Watch is among a large coalition of free speech groups that have criticized the Egyptian government and urged leaders to overturn the conviction.
The teenagers' case is the latest in a series of high-profile criminal trials against Egyptian citizens who have criticized Islam or acted in ways the courts believe are insulting to the faith.
In January, poet Fatma Naoot was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence for a Facebook post in which she criticized the slaughter of animals for the Eid al-Adha Islamic feast. In early February, Egyptian novelist Ahmed Nagy was sentenced to two years in prison for offending public morals after a magazine published an excerpt from his novel, The New York Times reported.
A fourth teenager who was prosecuted in the case was sentenced to time at a juvenile detention center. Edward, Hanna and Ashraf will appeal the court's decision, according to their attorney, Maher Naguib.
“Their parents have sent them to uncles and aunts outside of Minya,” Naguib told The New York Times of the teens, who did not attend the trial. “They feared for their safety. They are all terrified and crying now.”