14 February 2010
Under the title “Nag Hammadi…witness on sedition”, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued a report by its fact-finding mission on the drive-by shooting which targeted the Copts of Nag Hammadi as they left church after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve—Copts celebrate Christmas on 7 January. Seven died—six Copts and one Muslim—and nine were injured. The report also tackled the sectarian attack against Copts in the town of Farshout in the vicinity of Nag Hammadi in November 2009.
The EIPR called on President Mubarak to demand the general prosecutor and the speakers of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council to initiate a formal investigation into the incident. This could be carried out through the general prosecutor’s office, or by forming an independent committee with legal prerogative.
The initiative called for bringing the offenders to the criminal court, the prompt release of all those illegally detained without evidence of wrongdoing, and taking to account the officials responsible. It demanded compensation for the victims’ families.
The EIPR report cites the facts relating to the events and the link to an alleged rape crime of a Muslim girl by a Coptic man, who came from two different villages in the vicinity of Farshout.
It claims that the Interior Ministry’s announcement on the Nag Hammadi incident was inaccurate, since it claimed there was no prior warning or threat of violence against Copts despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Even so, the security apparatus failed to prevent the crime.
The report refers to the general conditions in Nag Hammadi in the few days before the Christmas Eve crime, saying they were obviously tense and that this should have placed the security authorities on the alert.
The tense climate and threats to Copts prompted Anba Kyrillos, the bishop of Nag Hammadi, to order the priests in his parish to finish Midnight Mass early, at 10:00pm instead of the usual midnight, so the congregation could go home before an attack could take place. This doubtless saved many churchgoers from the tragedy that struck the relatively few who loitered outside the church after Mass. When the attackers opened fire, seven lost their lives and nine were injured.
The report reveals the total absence of security around churches during Midnight Mass. That the shooting took place a few metres from two churches and a Coptic monastery reflects the inefficiency of security in the region.
Abuse and torture
The report cites the details of the collective attacks against the Copts of Nag Hammadi, Bahgoura, and Ezbet Terkes, and expanded to target Coptic houses and property. The perpetrators used knives, sticks and gasoline containers to break down shop doors, looting and starting fires. They even tried to open the doors of private houses and attack residents inside their homes.
The fact-finding mission records the damage and destruction of shops and houses owned by Copts, and the fear and terror that dominated them. The Copts’ losses were heavy, and they were fearful of more attacks.
And while the security officials failed so miserably in predicting the attacks, intercepting the offenders, or protecting the Copts, the report points out that they tried to cover their inadequacy by pursuing the by now familiar pattern of follow-up violations. The report cites arbitrary arrests of Copts and Muslims, torture of the detainees, and restricting the freedom of representatives of the media and civil activists.
The initiative received testimonies about arrests and arbitrary detention by security forces at different times from the morning of 7 January up to 10 January. Most of these arrests were in places far removed from where the violence took place.
Eyewitnesses provided information that some of the Coptic detainees were ill-treated and even tortured at the State Security Investigation (SSI) office at Nag Hammadi. They are alleged to have suffered severe kicks and beatings, were blindfolded and forced to remove most or all of their clothes. They were insulted and abused, and one security officer is alleged to have applied electric shocks to parts of their bodies.