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Human Rights Entity Demands Release of Christian Arrested in Egypt’s Sectarian Violence

Credit: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an international Human Rights foundation, is calling for the release of an Egyptian man who was arrested towards the end of last year when clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians in Upper Egypt.

Gerges Sameeh Zaki was arrested after sectarian violence broke out in the village of Barsha in Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, on 25 November 2020, when hundreds of Muslim villagers attacked the homes and properties of local Christians.

In a Wednesday, September 15 report, the leadership of CSW reports that a counter terrorism court in Cairo had renewed the detention of Mr. Zaki for 45 days on September 7.

Following the directive of the Egyptian court, CSW’s Founder, President Mervyn Thomas, decried what he referred to as prolonged pre-trial detention in the country and called for the immediate release of Mr. Zaki and many other people who the CSW official says have been held for pre-trial periods that exceed legal stipulations.

Mr. Mervyn also made reference to the situation of Rami Kamil who was arrested on 23 November 2019, and has remained in police custody where his detention has been renewed several times.

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 “We urge the Egyptian government to end the practice of prolonging pre-trial detention arbitrarily and indefinitely, and to facilitate the immediate release of Mr. Zaki, Mr. Kamil and others held for pre-trial periods that exceed legal stipulations,” Mr. Mervyn said.

He added, “We also urge the authorities to adopt measures aimed at combating the culture of collective punishment in the Minya region, and to address the societal hostility underpinning sectarian discord through a robust program of civic education that promotes respect for religious diversity and equality of citizenship. Local human rights organizations like Mr Kamil’s are key to this effort, and they must be allowed to undertake this work unhindered.”

Zaki is accused of “joining a terrorist group, publishing fake news and disturbing public order, and using the internet with the intention to commit crimes,” the Christian foundation reports.

His detention, the leadership of CSW says in the September 15 report, was renewed a day after the same court renewed the detention of Coptic activist Kamil.

On 25 November 2020, sectarian violence broke out after rumors circulated that Mr. Zaki had posted a comment on his personal Facebook page that was deemed insulting to Islam. He claimed that his page had been hacked.

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CSW reported that 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.

In a report on 27 November 2020 following the clashes, CSW’s CEO, Scot Bower, called on the Egyptian government to combat sectarian violence and to promote religious diversity in the country.  

“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,” Mr. Scott said.

He added, “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 organizations to promote religious diversity and equality of citizenship through civic engagement and education.”

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Following the clashes in 2021, the police detained and interrogated 15 Christians and 20 Muslims for 15 days.

In the September 15 report, CSW leadership reports that all those who were arrested were released on 21 January 2021 except for Mr. Zaki, who has remained in custody ever since.

A reconciliation session took place on 9 December 2020, and was attended by MPs, religious and community leaders. The participants rejected any offence to any religion or faith.