(AINA) -- Christian Copts worldwide were shocked and enraged at the use of live ammunition by Egyptian state security forces against unarmed Coptic protesters, causing the death of three Coptic young men. A four-year old child suffocated from tear gas thrown inside the chapel. Rights groups inside and outside of Egypt have condemned the use of excessive violence by security forces and the use of live ammunition against Coptic demonstrators.
Efforts by State Security to hide the use of firearms on unarmed protesters were in vain, as the rising death toll, hospital reports on those admitted, and video footage and eyewitness testimony have revealed the details of the incident. Coptic activists Sherif Ramzy and Ramy Kamel have conducted interviews with witnesses.
CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston blamed the violence on "excessive" police tactics and expressed his sadness at the "unnecessary" loss of life and injuries.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said that the events are a serious escalation in the State's treatment of its Christian citizens. "We're not talking about social violence occasioned by the construction of a church, but rather security forces opening fire on protesters demanding their constitutional right to worship without arbitrary interference or discrimination," said Hossam Bahgat, EIPR's Executive Director. "Even assuming Copts in the area wanted to convert a services building into a church for worship, that does not justify this degree of police violence. Demonstrators should not be shot at for violating building codes". EIPR called on the Public Prosecutor to prosecute the security personnel responsible for the deaths and injury of Christians.
Hany el Gezeyri, head of Copts for Egypt, denounced the use of live ammunition, adding that he is concerned "whether the discrimination of the state against the Copts became an official persecution or is this a way to terrorize Copts so that they keep silent?"
Attorney Maged Hanna said that apart from the Copts, he is not aware of any incident in Egypt where live ammunition was fired against unarmed protesters, adding "this is a State terrorizing its citizens."
The official figures of the incident were 2 death, 67 wounded and 170 Copts arrested. However, the Coptic Youth Front said in a statement that more than 300 people were wounded and over 1000 detained, including women. Accoring to the statement, many wounded refrained from going to hospital for treatment for fear of being arrested.
International Coptic lawyer Dr. Awad Chafik said that the number of detainees is enormous, but because Coptic families are hiding for fear of further arrests, it is difficult to get the correct numbers.
Wagih Yacoub, a human rights activists, complained about the treatment of the wounded. "They were shackled to their hospital beds and then sent to detention camps."
The same view is held by activist Magdy Khalil, who believes that the State dealings with the Egyptian Copts has evolved from discrimination to persecution to participation (directly or indirectly) in most of the crimes against them, to the stage of practicing 'State Terrorism' against a peaceful minority seeking to exercise their natural rights in prayer and worship."
Clashes broke out on November 24 between Christian protesters and Egyptian security forces over the new construction of the St. Mary and St. Michael churches, in the poor neighborhood of Talbiya, in Omraniya, Giza (AINA 11-27-2010).
"Bricks hurling were exchange between them, then security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition" according to the statement released by the Coptic Church's Giza diocese on November 26 (video of security forces attack on Church).
"The Governor of Giza, gave instructions to modify the building services permit, issued in 2009 into a church building. But a conflicting decision was issued by the Chief of the District to halt construction and remove the irregularities."
The statement added that the decision of the Chief of the District angered the people who gathered next to the building, fearing that the district might do harm to the construction, triggering the ensuing clashes.
Witnesses describe how enraged the Copts became upon seeing Security forces bulldozing their equipment and wetting their cement sacks. "State security stole the church pews and the donation boxes," Father Mina Zarif told Hope-Sat TV Channel, who also confirmed the use of live ammunition on protesters.
For more than ten years the Copts tried to obtain a license to build the Talbiya church. Unlike Muslim citizens, who only need a municipal license to build mosques, the Copts require a presidential decree for a church, based on the 1856 Ottoman Hamayoni Decree, in addition to ten humiliating conditions laid down by the Ezaby Pasha Decree of 1934.
Because obtaining a license to build a church in the light of all these obstacles is almost impossible, the Governor of Giza suggested to the Copts to build a center for community services and then after completion to use it as a church to pray. Copts began construction in the past four months and only the roof was left to complete, without any objection from any one.
But the situation changed completely when the Copts started to put a "dome" over the building, believing that this was compatible with the essence of the agreement with the governor.
Anba Theodosius, Bishop of Giza said that just three hours before finishing the dome "someone" gave orders to security forces to attack the people at the church construction site. "No one knows until now who gave this order," he added.
By Mary Abdelmassih