Freedom House Alarmed By Egyptian Court Verdict
Egyptian Court Acquits All Those Charged in Massacre of 21 Christians
March 4, 2003
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom expressed alarm today at the recent decision by an Egyptian court to acquit those charged in a massacre of twenty-one Christians in the village of El-Kosheh in January 2000.
The Center calls on the Government of Egypt to investigate police misconduct in El-Kosheh, and urges the U.S. Government to put its concerns about the trial high on its agenda of its recently articulated policy of promoting human rights and democracy in the Middle East.
On February 27 Egypt's State Security Court in Sohag found none of the 95 defendants guilty of the murders, in what was the largest massacre of Copts in several decades. The court convicted only two men on manslaughter charges for the death of a Muslim in the nearby village of Al-Balabish.
The Center fears that the court decision will signal Muslim extremist groups that they can murder members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority with impunity.
Bishop Wissa of the El-Kosheh area, and a recipient of the Center's 1999 Religious Freedom Award, said before the acquittals "If the perpetrators are allowed to go free, it will be seen as a green light to kill Christians."
The Center's Paul Marshall conducted a fact-finding mission to El-Kosheh in 2000 and interviewed eyewitnesses to the massacre. They named the murderers, many of whom are still living in the village and threatening further attacks. The Egyptian Government's failure to defend the villagers or punish their attackers keeps the villagers living in constant fear of further killings.
"Egypt's claims to be a U.S. ally in the war on terror are undercut by the fact that it refuses to act to punish the domestic terrorists who attack its Christian minority," said Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea.
The Egyptian police did little to stop the massacre, and did not carry out an investigation until several days after the murders took place. According to villagers interviewed by the Center, the police produced inaccurate versions of their eyewitness statements and withheld evidence from the court. According to the U.S. State Department, the Egyptian government never investigated allegations of police misconduct. The Center's report, Massacre at the Millennium:
A report on the Murder of 21 Christians in el-Kosheh, Egypt and the Failure of Justice, and a summary and selections is available at: www.freedomhouse.orgpublications/massacre/index.htm.