Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Egypt cops stop Copts from repairing church: right group

Egypt Police Prevent Copts from Repairing Church: Rights Group  

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) claimed that Egyptian police used violence on August 17 prevent villagers from repairing the only church in their area, a rights group said on Monday, warning of a rise in sectarian tension as a result.

"A policeman assigned to guard the Archangel Michael Church in Deshasha, in Bani Soueif province south of Cairo, hit three women while they were taking sand into the church to fix the floor which was cracked as result of water collection underneath," the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) stated.

Subsequently, rumors spread in the village that Copts had locked up the policeman inside the church, beaten him and torn his clothes, leading to the brief arrests of several Copts and to threats of retaliation from Muslim villagers, the group claimed.

"The worrying rise in sectarian tension that we have seen in Deshasha is a direct result of violations committed by the police," EIPR director Hossam Bahgat said.

"This incident must be investigated and those responsible held accountable."

Egyptian law allows the repair of churches without a prior permit, but church officials notify provincial authorities in writing, in advance. However, officials of the Archangel Michael Church claimed that the state security police (Mukhabarat) have prevented repair from being carried out at the church for the past 11 years.

The church is the oldest in the region, built in 1895 according to clerics. It was last renovated in 1930 and serves 100 Christian families in the Deshasha village.

"The Archangel Michael Church in Deshasha is but one example of the futility of any efforts to reform and unify construction and renovation laws for places of worship so long as security agents continue to violate existing laws in a discriminatory manner and with complete impunity," EIPR said.

Egypt's Copts -- the largest Christian community in the Middle East -- account for about 10 percent of the country's 76 million inhabitants and suffer from documented  systematic discrimination and harassment.

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