Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - An Egyptian court has sentenced
12 Coptic Christians to life imprisonment and acquitted eight Muslims, in a
trial heavily criticized by human rights activists and legal experts. The
ruling came yesterday, at the end of a trial called to shed light on the
sectarian violence last year in the province of Minya, in the southern part of
the country, about 220 km from Cairo. Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher and expert on
Egyptian law, emphasizes that "the acquittal of the eight Muslim
defendants" shows that "the investigations started from the beginning
by the attorney general are unfair and wrong" because there was
"clear evidence of guilt against them, for having set fire to Christian
The accused Christians were sentenced for inciting public
disorder, possession of illegal weapons and the murder of two Muslims. The
incident happened in April 2011 and has helped to exacerbate a situation of
deep inter-religious tension in the area of Upper Egypt, which then continued
in the following weeks (see AsiaNews 06/27/2011 Upper Egypt, violence against Christians on the rise.
Eight houses burned).
The violence erupted when a Muslim minibus driver, angered by
the presence of a speed bump outside a house owned by a wealthy Christian, got
into a fight with the house's security guards. Upon returning to his home
village, the Muslim driver assembled a group of people to get revenge for the
alleged wrong and the violence suffered.
The retaliation squad was joined by groups of Islamic
extremists, who surrounded the homes of Coptic Christians, intending to launch
an attack. In fear of being overwhelmed, the inhabitants opened fire from the
roofs of buildings, killing two people in the crowd and wounding two others. In
the days following, Muslim groups torched dozens of Christian houses and shops
to avenge the dead.
The eight Muslims on trial were accused of illegal possession
of weapons and having burned the Christians' buildings. However, the court
ruled for aquittal of the charges.
The judgment delivered by the judges of the State Security
Court is not appealable and the 12 Christians risk spending the rest of their
lives in prison. Only the military council could - in what is a very remote
hypothesis, moreover - request a retrial.