June 15 2004
The families of 21 Christians who were killed in violence which broke out in the village of El Kosheh in January 2000 were once again denied justice at the final verdict of the Egyptian Appeal Court.
On June 14 the Court of Cassation upheld the conviction of the man accused of killing the one Muslim victim, but reduced his sentence from 15 years to 13 years in prison. Three others received two- and one-year sentences for setting alight a truck, but the remaining 92 originally charged with atrocities in connection with the violence, have had their acquittals upheld.
No one has ever been convicted of the murder of the 21 Christian victims.
The upholding of the acquittals has come as a deep disappointment to Egypt's Christian minority, who had hoped to see justice done at the retrial. Coptic Bishop Wissa of Baliana Diocese, which includes El Kosheh, expressed the dismay of many in the Christian community. He said: "21 Christians are dead, we know for sure they did not commit suicide. Now, after the latest verdict, we are left with no choice but to appeal to God."
Youssef Sidhom, Editor-in-Chief of the Egyptian Watani newspaper, which specialises in Coptic issues, said: "This verdict comes as no surprise as the evidence presented to the court was not solid and should never have been presented. There should be a full investigation into the actions of the police as their performance from the start has been highly questionable."
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: "Once again the Egyptian judicial system has failed to bring any of the killers of these 21 Christians to justice. The families of those murdered have been badly let down by both the police and the Egyptian authorities. A full investigation into police methods must surely be a matter of urgency if justice is ever to be done."
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The violence in El-Kosheh, which erupted over the Millennium weekend, stemmed from a dispute between a Muslim trader and a Christian shop-owner on Friday December 31 1999. Muslim-owned kiosks and Christian-owned shops were damaged or destroyed that day as the violence escalated. While Saturday remained relatively quiet, Sunday saw the brutal murders of 21 Christians and a Muslim amid further violence.
During the violence, local security forces either stood by passively or became actively involved in the attacks. It is thus widely believed that the local security police bear responsibility for the escalation of the violence.
An Egyptian State Security Court acquitted 96 murder suspects on February 5 2001. The Sohag Criminal Court found four defendants guilty, but only of lesser crimes connected with the massacre. On February 27 2003, in a repeat of the earlier verdict, the Sohag Criminal Court acquitted nearly all 96 suspects.
As in the previous ruling, only four men received sentences. Mayez Amin Abdel Rahim, received a sentence of 15 years imprisonment for the murder of the sole Muslim victim while the other three received much shorter sentences for setting alight a truck.
The El-Kosheh massacre was Egypt's worst clash in decades between the country's predominantly Muslim citizens and Coptic Christians, who comprise between seven to ten percent of the population. Dubbed 'El-Kosheh II', the riots were preceded by a controversial murder investigation in the same village 16 months earlier, when police were accused of rounding up and torturing over 1,000 Coptic villagers to force confessions, implicating Christian, Shaiboub William Arsal, as the culprit.
June 15 2004