Egyptian Copts
Egyptian CoptsAFP/File

Two Coptic Christian children, aged 10 and 9, have been arrested for insulting religion in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Beni Suef, Ahram Online reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the two children were arrested on Tuesday after the imam of their local mosque filed a complaint against them.

By order of the prosecution the two boys, Nabil Nagy Rizk and Mina Nady Farag, are now being held in the Beni Suef juvenile detention pending further investigation on Sunday, said the report.

Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, the village imam, has accused the children of tearing up pages of the Koran. An Ahram Online reporter in the area said Ali initially took the children to the church and requested that the priest punish them.

Unsatisfied with the church's decision not to castigate the two boys, Ali, together with three other villagers, turned to the courts.

Nabil's father Nagy Rizk defended the action of the boys in a public statement, explaining that they are illiterate and therefore did not know the content of the papers which they found in a small white bag, as they were playing near a pile of rubbish in the street.

The events in Beni Suef come after a wave of arrests across Egypt of several individuals after they were accused by others of "committing blasphemy."

Most of those arrested were Copts accused of "insulting Islam,” Ahram Online noted.

In a recent similar case, a young Pakistani Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome was arrested for allegedly burning pages of the Koran.

The girl, Rimsha Masih, could face life in prison or even the death penalty under Pakistan’s strict and highly controversial blasphemy laws. Police in Pakistan have arrested an imam on suspicion of deliberately framing her.

Copts in Egypt have been nervous since Islamists came to power following an uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.

There have been several attacks, some of them lethal, against Copts in Egypt. Last month, Muslims attacked a Coptic church in a village near Cairo. At least 16 people were wounded in the melee, among them 10 police officers.

Egypt's Christians, who make up six to 10 percent of the country's population of 82 million, have regularly complained of discrimination and marginalization.