On Tuesday a prosecutor in Egypt ruled that a 15-year-old Coptic Christian boy must remain in custody for at least 15 days while an investigation is conducted into whether he posted cartoons on Facebook depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Gamal Abdallah Masoud, a high school student in the central Egyptian town of Baheeg, has denied posting the images, claiming they were added to his Facebook wall without his permission.
On New Year’s Eve, after news first spread of Masoud’s alleged online activity, riots broke out in Baheeg and three other nearby towns in the province of Asyut.
Muslim villagers threw rocks at police and set fires in at least six homes owned by Christians, including Masoud’s home, which was empty at the time. Seven officers were hospitalized after police used tear gas to disperse the rioters.
Egypt is a mostly Muslim country, with a Coptic Christian population of about 10 percent.
Mostafa al-Sayyed, the regional governor, met Monday with Muslim and Christian leaders and several Islamist members of Egypt’s parliament. Afterward, the group announced that rioters would be arrested. They also urged Coptic priests to publicly apologize for the Facebook images, and encouraged Masoud and his family to move out of the region.
In 2005 a global controversy erupted after a Danish newspaper published a dozen editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad, an act Muslims considered heretical. Although at attempt was made on the life of one of the cartoonists, the newspaper later apologized for offending followers of Islam.
In October, Egypt’s state news agency reported that a court in Cairo sentenced a man to three years in prison for posting material on Facebook that was determined to be disrespectful of Islam. The court determined that freedom of belief doesn’t excuse hate speech that may offend Muslims.
David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter