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 properties."
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.