Published: 12:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 28 May 2012
Christians get life sentence, Muslims acquitted in same case in Egypt
Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa
Twelve Christians have been sentenced to life imprisonment in Egypt, while eight Muslims jointly charged in the case were acquitted, in what has been slammed as a “serious miscarriage of justice”.
A military court tried the defendants on 21 May in connection with an outbreak of sectarian violence in Abu Qurqas El Balad, Minya, in April 2011 in which four people were killed.
Christian activist Georges Wahib, who attended the hearing, said that as the judge pronounced the verdict:
There was complete silence, as it came as a shock to everyone, then cries of grief and wailing could be heard from the Christian families with shouts of “we are innocent”, while the Muslim side broke out into jubilation and shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”).
Violence broke out on 18 April 2011 after a Muslim bus driver became angry over a speed bump outside the home of a wealthy Christian lawyer, Alaa Reda Roushdi. Two Muslims were killed in the subsequent fighting.
Following the funerals of the two deceased, a mob of Muslims looted and burnt down scores of homes and businesses belonging to Christians. An elderly Christian woman died after being thrown from a second floor balcony, and a Christian man who was stabbed during the violence later died in hospital. Ten Christians were injured and hospitalised.
The twelve Christian men sentenced to life imprisonment were convicted of sowing public strife, the possession of illegal weapons and killing two Muslims. Among the twelve was Mr Roushdi, who was not even at home when the deaths occurred.
The eight Muslim defendants who were acquitted had been charged with possession of illegal weapons and burning down the homes and businesses. Nobody was charged with the murder of the Christians.
The case has been slammed by human rights activists as a “serious miscarriage of justice”. Because it was conducted in a military court, a retrial can be granted only by the military council.
Hundreds of Christians staged a protest in front of the Cairo High Court on 22 May, while nearly 2,000 Christians and Muslims joined forces in a demonstration in front of the high court in Alexandria.
The case has highlighted the lack of equality under the law for Egyptian Christians, and it is feared that they will only suffer greater acts of injustice if an Islamist president is elected.
Rare case of justice
However, in a rare case of justice for the Christian community, a Muslim policeman who shot six Christians on a train in Egypt, killing one of them, was sentenced to death by a court in Minya on 14 May.
Amer Ashour Abdel-Zaher (29) opened fire on the Christians, who were sitting together, after chanting “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”) on the Cairo-bound train in January 2011.
Fathy Ghattas (71) was killed instantly. His wife, Emily Hanna, was seriously injured and required an operation to remove her left kidney and spleen. The four other victims also sustained severe wounds: three had to be airlifted to hospital in Cairo; the other needed an operation on her liver.
According to eyewitnesses, the off-duty police officer had walked up and down the train looking for passengers with a cross tattooed on their wrist, which most Egyptian Christians have, or any other sign revealing their Christian identity.
Christian activists expressed their surprise at the verdict. Mark Ebeid said, “Usually killers of Christians literally get away with murder.”