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Egypt Sentences 12 Coptic Christians to Life in Prison

On 21 May, Egypt's State Security Council sentenced 12 Christians to life in prison and acquitted eight Muslims.

The Christians were found guilty of sowing public strife, possession of illegal weapons, and killing two Muslims in an April 2011 episode of violence that took place in Minya province, about 220 kilometers south of Cairo.

The violence was spurred on after a Muslim bus driver became angry over a speed bump in front of a wealthy Christian's home. The bus driver got into an argument with security guards who then beat him up.

After returning back to his village, Abu Qurqas, a group of Muslims gathered near an ultraconservative Islamist group's office to protest the beating. Christians nearby began to shoot at the crowd, killing two and injuring two, when they thought they were going to be attacked.

Following the attack, Muslim villagers burnt down several Christian homes and businesses.

The eight Muslims that were acquitted were charged with possession of illegal weapons and burning down Christian-owned homes and businesses.

Muslims makes up 90% of the Egyptian population, while Christianits makes up only 10% of the population. Christianity entered Egypt in the first century A.D. The first Coptic Church was established in 65 A.D. by the apostle Mark. Copts make up about 90% of the total Christian population.

Christian groups often claim that government officials ignore Christian persecution, and some studies showed that Egypt has some of the most restrictive religious freedom laws. An Egyptian court in 2009 refused to allow a Muslim-born, Christian convert to change his religious affiliation on his identification documents. The sentencing of these 12 Christians has stirred up more tension and debate.

Egyptians have seen a widening gap between the Coptic Christians and Muslims in recent years, and tension has grown even more after the overthrow of the Egyptian government last year. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party swept the parliamentary elections in January 2012. The group hopes its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, will win the presidential elections, which take place on 23 and 24 May.

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