Syed Mustafa Zaidi, 44, a Shiite Muslim, allegedly coerced the 13- and 15-year-old boys to join him in an annual ceremony involving self-flagellation, officials said. Zaidi has been charged with two counts of child cruelty amounting to "willful ill-treatment" in the first such case heard in Britain, The Times of London reported Tuesday.
Prosecutor Andrew Nuttall told a jury that Zaidi was part of a mosque which already had been warned that children under the age of 16 were too young to participate in the flogging. But two days after having used "considerable force upon himself and causing others to fear for his safety," he allegedly pushed the boys to do it as well, the prosecutor said. Zaidi reportedly told arresting detectives that the boys had volunteered to participate.
Self-flagellation is part of the Shiite traditional Ashura festival, in which men whip themselves to recreate the suffering of Muslim martyrs.