Twenty-five men have been referred to the criminal court in Minya on account of charges of burning and looting the houses of Copts in the village of al-Karm in Abu-Qurqas, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, last May. Four of the defendants were additionally charged with stripping and beating the elderly Coptic woman Suad Thabet in the same incident.
The incident goes back to last May when a rumour spread in the village of al-Karm to the effect that the Copt Ashraf Attiya was having an affair with the Muslim woman Nagwa Fathy; both in their early thirties, married and with children. Since, according to Islamic teachings, a Christian man may in no way liaise with a Muslim woman, tensions rose in the village and Attiya took his family away and fled.
On 19 May Attiya’s parents filed a complaint with Abu-Qurqas police station, declaring that they had received threats that were expected to take effect the following day. True to the threat, a group of 300 armed men the following day attacked the houses of seven Coptic families, plundered them and set four of them on fire. They then broke into the home of the Copt Ayad Attiya, Ashraf Attiya’s father, beat him up and dragged his 70-year-old wife Suad Thabet into the street. To shouts and cheers, they stripped her naked and beat her before the large crowd. The incident, especially the stripping and beating of Ms Thabet, angered Egyptians at large, and Copts in specific. It led to intervention by President Sisi who apologised to Ms Thabet and promised her retribution. Pope Tawadros called Ms Thabet to comfort her, and called for justice to be served.
Some 10 days later the Armed Forces, according to directions by President Sisi, repaired the damaged Coptic homes.
By the end of July Minya security chief, General Reda Tabliya, was replaced by a new chief, General Faisal Dweedar. On 8 September General Essameddin al-Bedeiwi replaced Tareq Nasr as governor of Minya. On his first day in office he headed to Minya bishopric to pay a courtesy visit to Anba Macarius. The bishop who was on his part preparing to visit the new governor was taken by surprise and expressed deep appreciation at Governor Bedeiwi’s prompt initiative. The Governor promised that Minya, which had seen seven incidents of attacks against Copts from May to July 2016, would witness no such incidents in the future.
Four of the 25 defendants are charged with stripping Ms Thabet of her clothes and beating her; all are charged with mobbing, arson, destroying and looting property, burning a motorcycle, and firing gunshots. Among the 25 detainees referred to court are Nazir Ishaq Ahmed who is Ms Fathy’s husband, his father Ishaq Ahmed and his brother Abdel-Moneim, the three men who Ms Thabet identified as stripping and beating her. Early on Nazir Ahmed had accused his wife of adultery but, according to lawyer Ihab Ramzy, this is a charge very difficult to prove.
Investigations into al-Karm case have extended since last May; the lawyers of the Coptic side say irregularities were repeatedly committed. Ms Thabet’s testimony was changed several times, as were the testimonies of witnesses. The fields, crops, and cattle sheds of a number of the village Copts were burned; and they were threatened by the Muslim villagers that they stand to lose even more if they do not pressure Ms Thabet into withdrawing her case. They attempted to send the message that unless she did, the livelihoods of the entire Coptic population in the village would be threatened. But Ms Thabet persisted in her quest for justice.
Now the Prosecutor-General has ordered investigations into charges against Essam al-Khodari, chief of security of South Minya; and Muhammad Mustafa, intelligence assistant at Abu-Qurqas police station, of falsifying the testimony of Ms Thabet.
Wrongdoers no more to get away with crime
Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, told Watani that the referral of the defendants to court has restored confidence in the government and the judiciary. “It is redeeming to the community at large, not only to the families of the victims or to Copts alone, that justice will be served,” he said. “I have repeatedly said that as long as wrongdoers get away with their crime, all others are encouraged to follow suit and commit more crimes and assaults,” he commented.
Anba Macarius explained that traditional conciliation sessions, the out-of-court settlements that force Copts into succumbing to oppressive agreements and relinquishing their legal rights, have failed miserably time and again in working justice or reducing attacks against Copts. They moreover sent the negative message that the law is no deterrent to crime, and that culprits can always escape justice.
12 October 2016