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Egypt frees 9 Copts who called for the rebuilding of their church

Security forces at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt on 11 December 2016 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]
Security forces at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt on 11 December 2016 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]

The Egyptian government has released nine Coptic Christians who were arrested after a protest demanding that a church be rebuilt in Minya governorate.

The nine protesters were interrogated whilst blindfolded and handcuffed, had no lawyer and their families were not given information about where they were being detained, according to Amnesty International.

In late January, 70 Coptic Christian residents of the Ezbet Farag Allah village demanded that the government approve the construction of their church to replace one that was destroyed in a fire and then officially demolished in July 2021.

Questions were raised over how the church caught fire, yet the government refused to investigate the matter.

For years the villagers had to travel to the next village and use the church there.

Following a circulated video, demonstrators were arrested for "endangering public peace" and "disturbing public security" despite their claims that they were taking part in a peaceful protest.

READ: Egypt releases 41 detainees, including political activists

For years, worshippers at the church called on the government to rebuild their church but received no response, despite a 2016 law which stipulates that the government must respond to such requests within four months.

Government critics say that authorities heavily restrict the building and renovation of churches.

At the end of March Amnesty called on the Egyptian authorities to release the nine Copts. "Coptic Christians should be afforded the right to collectively practise their religion," the watchdog said.

"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."

In February 2020 Patrick Zaki was arrested whilst passing through Cairo Airport after writing an article documenting discrimination against Egyptian Christians, including the closure of churches.

Zaki was beaten, electrocuted and threatened with rape. In December last year he was released pending the resumption of his trial for "spreading false information."

The release of the nine Coptic protesters came on the same day that Egypt's public prosecution released 41 activists from pretrial detention.

Categories
AfricaAmnesty InternationalEgyptInternational OrganisationsNews
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