CAIRO: Fatalities caused by sectarian violence rose during the period from April and June, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said in its quarterly report on freedom of religion and belief, issued this week.
The report records violations of religious freedom in the form of sectarian violence, interference by security bodies and discrimination on the basis of religious belief.
Five fatalities are recorded in the report, which covers the period from April to June 2009.
June clashes between a Muslim and members of a Christian family in Kafr El-Berbery, Daqahleya over the price of a bottle of soda led to the death of 17-year-old Mohamed Ramadan Ezzat the following day.
This case is one of four incidents that began as ordinary disputes before quickly taking on a sectarian tone.
Eyewitnesses told EIPR that during Ezzat’s funeral some members of his family opened fire on the Christian family’s home and the shop where the argument took place, and individuals chanted religious slogans and stoned Christian homes.
Members of the Christian family (a mother, father and their two children) were detained and charged with murder.
The mother was subsequently released when it was established that she was not in the village at the time of the incident.
Members of security bodies also launched an arbitrary arrest campaign against Muslims in Kafr El-Barbary and neighboring villages.
The public prosecution office subsequently ordered the release of 18 people.
Security bodies continued to respond to Muslim-Christian clashes with widespread arbitrary arrest campaigns and illegal detention under the Emergency Law, the report states, with the aim of pressurizing parties to the dispute to reach reconciliation agreements.
In May the Minya Criminal Court acquitted a Muslim man, Gamal Rostom, of the murder Christian Yeshoa’a Gamal Nashed during sectarian clashes in the village of El-Tiba, Samalout in October 2008.
A reconciliation agreement between the families of Rostom and Nashed had been agreed on before the trial began, involving the governor of Minya, the head of Minya security, members of Parliament and religious figures.
Nashed’s father told EIPR that the reconciliation agreement included a renunciation by the family of their right to seek civil compensation for the death.
Rostom was found guilty because of a lack of evidence proving his involvement in the crime the report says. His lawyers had also presented a copy of the reconciliation agreement to the court.
The use of reconciliation sessions rather than a criminal legal process – even where Christians have suffered physical injury or damage to their property giving rise to a legitimate legal claim – both encourages further acts of violence and leads to a feeling of vulnerability within Egypt’s Coptic community, rights groups say.
Two Christians from the village of Hegaza Qebly were killed in April, reportedly in revenge for the killing of a Muslim in 2004. Relatives of one of the two men had been sentenced to three years for manslaughter after the death.
EIPR researchers were told that the other man killed was in no way connected to the 2004 killing.
Seventeen Christian families were also made to leave the village in order to appease the family of the dead Muslim man.
Unsuccessful efforts to bring about a reconciliation between the two sides were led by the governor of Qena. Members of two Christian families who were forced out of the village in 2004 and subsequently returned are now being asked to leave again by security bodies. Security troops are reportedly preventing them from leaving their homes.
In Zeitoun, Cairo, while a large number of people were reportedly arrested in connection with an explosion outside a church in May 2009, no-one has been brought to trial for the incident.
Violations of Christians’ right to freedom of religion through prayer continued during the period covered by the report.
In June 2009 eight Muslims and tens of Christians were injured after sectarian clashes in the hamlet of Boshra El-Sharqiya.
The clashes reportedly broke out against a background of attempts to pray in a building owned by the Coptic Church that made the hamlet’s Muslims believe that the building was going to be turned into a church.
A Muslim woman’s physical attack on a Christian woman standing outside the building sparked the incident.
Police reportedly used violence during the arrest of nineteen Christians after the clashes, leading to physical injuries.
In April Christians in the village of Wasef Ghali Basha, Ayyat were prevented from praying over the body of a deceased Christian woman in a building owned by the Coptic church and licensed as a Sunday school.
The building had been closed by the authorities from 2003 until 2006 because of a fear that it would be turned into a church, and its re-opening in 2006 led to violent two-day sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians in the village.
Christians in the village of Saba’a, Samalout, Minya launched a two-day protest in April after the church they had been worshiping in since December 2008 was closed by security bodies.
Security bodies has refused to license the building as a place of worship “because of a fear that the village’s Muslims would object.
Security bodies also reportedly demolished a building in Marsa Matrouh out of a fear that it would be used as a church.
There was one incident of an administrative travel ban during the period monitored by the report.
Abdel Latif Mohamed Ahmed, a Quranist was prevented from traveling to the United States in April, as he was about to board the plane.
Ahmed – who had been detained under Emergency Law powers for two years on charges of adopting Quranist views – was informed that he is banned from traveling pursuant to security body orders. No reasons were given for the ban.