Police prevent Copts from repairing church, says Egypt rights group

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CAIRO: Police used violence earlier this month to prevent villagers from repairing the only church in their area, a rights group said on Monday, warning of a rise in sectarian tension as a result.

On Aug. 17, a policeman assigned to guard the Archangel Michael Church in Deshasha (Beni Sueif province south of Cairo) hit three women while they were taking sand into the church to fix the floor which was cracked as a result of water collection underneath, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said in a statement.

After the incident rumors spread in the village that Copts had locked up the policeman inside the church, beat him up and tore his clothes, leading to the brief arrests of several Copts and to threats of retaliation from Muslim villagers, the group said.

The worrying rise in sectarian tension that we have seen in Deshasha is a direct result of violations committed by the police, EIPR director Hossam Bahgat said.

This incident must be investigated and those responsible held accountable.

The law allows the repair of churches without a prior permit but church officials must give written notice to the provincial authorities, the EIPR said.

But according to officials from the Archangel Michael Church, the state security intelligence has prevented repair from being carried out at the church for the past 11 years.

Clerics said the church is the oldest in the region and was built in 1895. It was last renovated in 1930 and serves 100 Christian families in the Deshasha village.

The Archangel Michael Church in Deshasha is but one example of the futility of any efforts to reform and unify construction and renovation laws for places of worship so long as security agents continue to violate existing laws in a discriminatory manner and with complete impunity, EIPR said. -AFP

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