Copts and liberal Egyptians were in for a disappointment on Saturday 14 January when Minya prosecution dismissed the case of the stripping and beating of the 70-year-old woman Suad Thabet from the village of al-Karm in Minya, 250km south of Cairo. Ms Thabet had been stripped naked and beaten by an Salafi mob in May 2016, in the wake of a rumour that her son was having an affair with a Muslim woman. The woman’s husband, Nazeer Ishaq, led the attack against Ms Thabet and her husband after their son fled the village. [http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/sectarian/pope-tawadros-rule-of-law-must-prevail/16531/]
The prosecution said that the case was dismissed because of insufficient evidence, owing to the fact that several witnesses had gone back on their testimonies. There was hence no base for a court case. According to Ihab Ramzy, the lawyer who represents Ms Thabet, the witnesses changed their testimonies under pressure and threats from the Salafis in the village, among whom is Ishaq.
Anba Macarius: Deeply disillusioned
The May 2016 incident had given rise to four legal cases. The first concerns the stripping and beating incident in which Nazeer Ishaq was the main defendant. The second concerns the burning of seven Coptic-owned houses during the mob attack last May; 25 villagers are charged with arson. The third concerns a demand for EGP1 million in compensation demanded by Ishaq from Ashraf Attiya, Ms Thabet’s son, for the moral damages caused to his family and reputation because of Attiya’s ‘adulterous relation’ with Ishaq’s wife—he later divorced her. The fourth legal case is against two detectives form Abu-Qurqas police station who had at one point changed Ms Thabet’s testimony, but the matter was directly spotted and legal proceedings were taken against them by the prosecution.
Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, expressed his deep disillusionment with the case. He said that everyone in the village had seen the stripping and beating incident; it was no secret. Ms Thabet came out in public about it in order to file her legal complaint, even though she knew this would forever disgrace her in the village community. Stripping a woman is taboo in rural societies, so Ms Thabet couldn’t possibly have been making up a story to her social detriment. The threats and pressure applied against the witnesses was with the purpose of forcing the Copts to ‘conciliate’ with their attackers and hence drop the legal case entirely. “Sadly, this is almost where we stand now,” he said. But the lawyers say they will file an appeal for the prosecution to reopen investigations in the case.” Lawyers Ihab Ramzy and Sameh Ashour, who heads the Bar Association, confirmed that. “We had hoped justice could be served,” Anba Macarius said.
“May God bring me justice”
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had apologised to Ms Thabet for the stripping and beating incident, and had ordered her home and all the other Coptic homes repaired and refurbished by the Armed Forces’ Construction Department. But the Attiyas were never able to go back home for fear for their lives.
Watani met Ms Thabet and her son Ashraf Attiya. Ms Thabet felt very bitter about the case being dismissed. “May God bring me justice,” she said. “I have been treated cruelly and unfairly; my right was forfeited. It looks like the case has been ‘cooked up’ so that there is no evidence to incriminate anyone in specific.” She raised a SOS to President Sisi to intervene, but the simple peasant woman did not appear to realise that the judicial system works independently from the President.
Ms Thabet recalled how she was cruelly stripped last May, her husband injured, and her daughter-in-law beaten. Her Muslim neighbor rushed and took her in, then Ms Thabet and her family fled the village. “We stayed in the town of Abu-Qurqas for five days. I was in a pitiable state and could neither eat nor drink. But an officer from State Security came and advised me to go report the matter to the prosecution, which I promptly did. But ever since, those who supported me were threatened and began to retract their testimonies. My family and I were constantly pressured to conciliate with the Ishaqs; the Umda (Mayor) himself told me to conciliate, but I insisted I would get justice first. We were threatened we would be killed if we so much as put a foot in our village.
“Now we live with my daughter’s family in another village. The only support we get is from Anba Macarius who never abandoned us. Everyone else was too afraid.”
“I did nothing wrong”
Ashraf Attiya spoke for the first time. As his wife and four daughters stood by, he definitely denied any relation with the Muslim woman he was rumoured to have an affair with. “I challenge anyone to produce the slightest proof of such a relation,” he told Watani. “Once I heard of the circulation of such a story, I directly went to the police station and told them of it. They advised me to take my family and leave the village, since such rumours could have dire consequences. I did that, but then my parents and the Copts in the village were collectively punished on my account. If I did anything wrong I’m willing to bear the penalty for it, but why wage such a vicious attack on people who lived peacefully and never did any harm?”
Mr Attiya explained that he had been targeted by Ishaq because of business differences. “I am a successful trader,” he said, “and there was some competition between us. He attempted to implicate me in trade charges, but there was nothing at all against me. At one point he even beat me and had to pay me EGP500 in compensation when I reported him.”
16 January 2017