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EGYPT: Sectarian violence breaks out in Minya

Sectarian violence broke out in the village of Barsha in Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, on 25 November, when hundreds of local Muslim villagers attacked the homes and properties of local Christians.

 

CSW (27.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Jth3ew – The incident began after rumours circulated that a Christian man, who remains anonymous to ensure his security, had posted a comment on his personal Facebook page that was deemed insulting to Islam. The man claims that his page had been hacked.

 

The assailants also attempted to attack the church of Abou Sefin, where the congregation was celebrating the beginning of the Coptic fast. A minibus belonging to the church was burnt, and several homes and properties were damaged, but no one was hurt. Police were deployed quickly, and arrested a number of local Muslims and Christians who were involved in clashes.

 

The allegation that sparked the violence comes amid a significant increase in the number of people arrested on charges relating to contempt of religion and blasphemy during 2020.

 

CSW’s CEO Scot Bower said: “While we are relieved that nobody was hurt in this incident, the Egyptian government must do far more to combat sectarian violence and bring an end to the culture of collective punishment in the Minya region. This incident must be thoroughly investigated, with those responsible brought to justice. The societal hostility underpinning sectarian discord, which facilitates frequent outbreaks of violence in the area, must also be addressed.  We encourage the Egyptian authorities to engage positively with human rights organisations to promote religious diversity and equality of citizenship through civic engagement and education.”

Photo: Scenes of sectarian violence in Barsha, Minya. Credit: CSW.





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EGYPT: Coptic Christians targeted with mob violence

A mob of Muslim extremists attacked the Coptic Community in the village of Dabbous in the Samalout suburb of Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, on 5 October. A number of the attackers have been arrested, along with several Copts who tried to defend themselves.

 

CSW (12.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/3nJvcUg – Tension arose during a Coptic wedding on 3 October when a fight broke out between some Copts and two Muslim men from a neighbouring village, who were supported by local Muslims. Two days later, a large mob attacked the Christian community in the village, throwing stones at them and their homes and causing some property damage.

 

Samalout police were deployed to the village in the aftermath of the attacks and arrested 12 Copts and an unknown number of Muslims. Efforts are underway to convince Copts and Muslims in the village to hold a reconciliation session.

 

Reconciliation meetings are extra-judicial procedures commonly used to resolve sectarian disputes. They generally impose ad-hoc and often unconstitutional conditions on the victims of the violence, with the authorities often accepting the outcome in lieu of investigating and prosecuting the actual perpetrators of the violence.

 

Dabbous is home to a church building which was constructed in 2005. However, extremists have refused to allow local Christians to use it for worship purposes and the building has been under police protection since 2008. Over 2,000 Copts live in the village, but they are obliged to travel to neighbouring villages to attend church services.

 

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “More must be done by the Egyptian government to end sectarian discord and violence in Upper Egypt, including by ensuring that incidents such as this are thoroughly investigated and those responsible are brought to justice through judicial processes and not, as is being sought in this case, informal extra-judicial procedures. CSW is also concerned that despite recent progress in the legalisation of  church buildings, the Copts in Dabbous have not been able to use their church building since 2005, in violation of their right to freedom of religion or belief. This outstanding injustice within the community must also be tackled as a matter of urgency, including through civic engagement and education that promote religious diversity and equality of citizenship.”





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ERITREA: Conditional release of 27 Christian prisoners

CSW has confirmed that 27 Eritrean Christians were released from Mai Serwa Prison near Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, on 4 and 8 September, possibly in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

CSW (11.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2FxpoM0  – According to CSW’s sources, the group consisted of 19 men and eight women who had been detained without charge or trial for between two and 16 years, and who are thought to be the first of around 54 anticipated releases. However, the releases are reportedly conditional on the submission of  property deeds ensuring their guarantors are held liable for their future actions.

 

Sources confirmed that the releases did not include any detained church leaders.  Moreover, the releases were preceded by the arrests of several Christians in Asmara, including around four church leaders, two weeks earlier.

 

Commenting on these events, a CSW source said: “It is a government strategy. They cannot detain everybody, so they keep you for some time, hoping that you will become weak or frightened.  Then they put in other people. They release and put other people in prison at the same time.”

 

The source put the number of Christians currently detained at a little over 300, including 39 children, “although these numbers fluctuate.”

 

Tens of thousands of Eritreans are currently held without charge or trial in life threatening conditions in more than 300 sites across the country. Among those incarcerated are prisoners of conscience, some of whom have been detained for well over a decade on account of their political views or religious beliefs. Conditions in these facilities are overcrowded, unsanitary and inadequate; detention facilities include shipping containers, underground cells, and the open air in the desert, and access to medical attention is insufficient and often withheld as punishment. Mai Serwa prison, where the former detainees were jailed, is infamous for utilising metal shipping containers as holding cells.

 

The spate of recent releases is being attributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prison system.  However, Eritrea is officially reporting just 341 cases, and claims that no one has died of the virus so far. There has been no independent verification of these assertions.

 

In an earlier development, reports emerged in August indicating that members of the Muslim community who were detained in 2018 in connection with protests following the death of respected Muslim elder Haji Musa Mohammed Nur had been released.

 

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “While applauding the fact that people who were deprived of their liberty have regained their freedom, it is also important to recall that they were detained arbitrarily and without due process for excessive periods simply on account of their religious beliefs.  Moreover, these releases remain conditional, as they were secured by property deeds, leaving the guarantors vulnerable to losing their properties.  The guarantors could also lose their freedom should a former detainee exercise the right to leave the country, a right articulated in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Eritrea is party. Far more prisoners of conscience remain arbitrarily detained than have been released, and the fact that these releases were preceded by further arrests is indicative of an ongoing repression of the right to freedom of religion or belief.  CSW therefore continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners detained arbitrarily, particularly in view of a pandemic that poses a risk to life for those still held in inhumane conditions.”


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