Two of the five Copts from the village of Saft al-Kharsa in Beni Sweif, 100km south of Cairo, who were detained by the police since 22 July without any charges against them and without a prosecution order, were today released. Another three, however, remain in detention. The two who were set free are Matta Nadi Yacoub and Ezzat Samir Fahmy; the three still in police custody are Yacoub Nadi Yacoub, Adel Aziz Ibrahim, and Rizq Ramzy Yacoub. They had originally been seven Coptic detainees, but Nadi Yacoub and Ishaq Fahim were released last week and, another week earlier, Nadi Yacoub and Ishaq Fahim had also been set free.
On Tuesday 16 August the lawyer of the detainees, Hany Magdy, filed a complaint with the prosecution against their detention, upon which the police denied their being held at the police station and gave no information to their families as to their whereabouts. Members of their families who went to visit them at the police station at which they were detained were told that no persons with these names were there. “We had always been allowed to visit our relatives at the police station since they were detained on 22 July,” Reda Ishaq, a cousin of one of the detainees told Watani last Tuesday. “We were allowed to carry foods and personal belongings to them. But this morning we were told they were not there. When we asked where were they then we were given ambiguous replies; like they had been moved to Beni Sweif or to another police station in al-Fashn. But there was no definite answer to where we could find them.”
The prosecution is investigating the matter.
The seven Saft al-Kharsa Copts had been caught on Friday 22 July in the wake of an attack by fanatic Muslims against the village Copts. They were not charged with any violation of the law.
The attack against the al-Kharsa Copts on 22 July was on account of suspicion that the Copts would convert a building under construction, owned by Nadi Yacoub, into a church. The house is a two-storey building erected on a piece of land 250sq.m. in area; the lower floor includes four rooms and a workshop, whereas the area of the upper floor includes no dividing walls or separators.
After Friday noon prayers, an extremist Muslim mob gathered and waged an attack against the Coptic villagers. To cries of Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), they hurled stones at Coptic houses, terrorising the inmates especially the women and children. Seven Coptic-owned homes incurred damages, as well as a car belonging to Yacoub.
The police immediately arrived and dispersed the fanatic demonstration using tear gas. They caught six Copts and 18 Muslims pending investigations. The police did not leave the village till the following day when a conciliation was worked out between the Copts and Muslims of the village. The conciliation was orchestrated by the village elders as well as the local politicians Ali Abu-Dawla and Gamal Hindi. Beni Sweif security officials attended as observers. It was decided that the house under construction should be used for residence, and that the upper floor may be used for weddings or funerals but may not be converted into a church unless all the necessary official permits are obtained.
The 18 Muslims who were detained by the police have been questioned by the prosecution which ordered an extension of their detention for another 15 days. They were charged with disrupting public peace, violating personal freedom, damaging a house and car, and inciting violence. The seven Copts, on the other hand, were not charged with any crime or misdemeanour, and were not prosecuted.
Saft al-Kharsa is home to 50 Coptic families that make a 300-strong Coptic congregation, and includes no church. The nearest church is 12km away in the village of Abu-Bushra.
The authorities in Beni Sweif have gained a reputation for not tolerating attacks against Copts. Some two weeks ago, a Copt in the Beni Sweif village of Beni Bekheit was accused of killing a Muslim. Normally, this would have triggered a ferocious attack against the Copts. In Beni Bekheit, however, the security authorities deployed large forces that worked to guard against any such attack till, a week later, investigations revealed the Copt was innocent; a Muslim man confessed to having committed the crime.
20 August 2016