Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to release nine Coptic Christians who were arbitrarily detained at the end of January after protesting against the authorities' refusal to rebuild a church that had burned down five years ago.
According to a report published today, the nine were arrested by security forces in their village, Ezbet Farag Allah in the El-Minya governorate, having appeared in a video that circulated the week before on 22 January, in what was described as a "peaceful protest".
"The Egyptian authorities have, for years, ignored calls to rebuild the church, leaving around 800 Coptic Christians without a place to worship in their village. Now, in their shameful efforts to silence these calls, they are arbitrarily detaining villagers, criminalising peaceful protests, and slapping ludicrous charges on those who dare to speak out," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.
"Coptic Christians in Egypt should be afforded the right to collectively practise their religion. For too long, their religious freedom has been undermined by discriminatory laws and practices, which place undue restrictions on the construction and renovation of churches and grant unbridled power to governors and security forces to make decisions over church repairs."
The report states that, after being detained, the nine defendants were interrogated while blindfolded and handcuffed, without any lawyers present, before being sent for prosecution on 2 and 3 February. Their families were also denied information regarding their fate or whereabouts. The State Security Prosecution decided to imprison the nine for 15 days, pending investigations, then renewed the detention decision on 12 February.
A month later, the Supreme State Security Prosecution renewed their detention for a period of 15 days.
In 2016 the village's only church, the Church of St Joseph and Abu Sefein caught fire, which the authorities failed to investigate, although some believe the incident was a "deliberate act". It was officially demolished in July 2021.