01/05/2005, 00.00
EGYPT - ISLAM
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Christians jailed since December set free

Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III was in self-imposed exile in a monastery to free them.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – All Coptic Christians arrested and jailed in December have now been set free. The last 11 left prison yesterday after paying 300 Egyptian pound bail (US$ 50)

Others were freed in mid- and late December.

Patriarch Shenouda III had gone into self-imposed exile in a monastery just before Christmas to protest against the incarceration stating that he would not appear in public until all the prisoners were released.

The affair had started on December 8, 2004, when about three thousand Copts demonstrated in front of Cairo's St Mark's Cathedral. Clashes with the police had led to the arrest of 34 of them.

The demonstrators were protesting against the forced conversion to Islam of the wife of a Coptic priest. The woman's employer was accused of seducing her and then blackmailing her into becoming a Muslim.

A few days after the demonstration, the woman—Wafaa Constantine Messih—who had disappeared, came home reasserting her Christian faith.

"I was born Christian," she was quoted as saying, "and I want to stay one till I die."

Public prosecutor Maher Abdel Wahed had freed a first group of 13 Christian demonstrators on December 21. Another 10 were ordered released on December 30. And now the last 11 have been set free. (LF)

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