Al-Saff court in Giza has today, 15 October 2018, acquitted all 20 defendants in what has become known in the media as the “Etfeeh church case”. The defendants included one Copt, Eid Attiya, who had been charged with erecting a building without license.
The story goes back to December 2018 when, following Friday noon prayers, hundreds of Muslim villagers of Kafr al-Wassleen in Etfeeh, south Giza, gathered in front of the small building which had been used by the village Copts as a de-facto church for some 15 years. The Muslim mobsters screamed the Islamic chant of Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), and hostile cries that called for bringing the church down. They broke into the building, injuring three Copts who worked there, destroyed everything inside, and threw out the Bibles and religious objects. The Coptic villagers claimed the attack came in the wake of a rumour circulated in the village that they intended to install a bell in their church. The police dispersed the assailants and caught 28 men on charges of mobbing, beating, using religion to stoke sectarian sedition, and breaking into and destroying the property of others. The injured, among whom was Eid Attiya Ibrahim, were moved to hospital.
Mr Attiya was later arrested for erecting a building without licence. He had constructed the building as a village house but then sold it to the Church which converted it into the de-facto church of al-Amir Tadros. The Bishopric of Etfeeh submitted documents to the court proving that the building in question was a church owned by the bishopric. The de-facto church is unlicensed, owing to the near impossibility of obtaining official licence to build a church prior to the 2016 law for building churches. Once this law was passed, however, Etfeeh bishopric applied to legalise the status of al-Amir Tadros’s according to the new law.
Mr Attiya had last January been handed by Giza Misdemeanours Court a suspended sentence of one year in prison and a fine of EGP360,000. The court also sentenced the 19 Muslim defendants each to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of EGP500 each. But last February the prosecution of al-Saff, Giza, appealed the ruling. Hence today’s ruling.
Hany Ramsis, Attiya’s lawyer, expressed his unhappiness with the court ruling which, he said, acquitted both offender and victim, thus exercised the ultimate ‘balancing act’ between Muslims and Copts.
It should be borne in mind, however, that the legal reasoning behind the ruling is not yet out.
15 October 2018