Justice again eludes victims of El Kosheh
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.”
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
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