(AINA) -- The verdict passed by the Minya Criminal Court on May 21 convicting 12 Copts to life imprisonment while acquitting eight accused Muslims in the same case, known as Abu Qurqas sedition, has caused widespread anger among the Copts. Georges Wahib of United Copts, who attended the court session, said that when judge Abdel Fattah Ahmed al-Sughayar pronounced the verdict at the court yesterday "there was complete silence, as it came as a shock to everyone, then cries of grief and wailing could be heard from the Coptic families with shouts of we are innocent, while the Muslim side broke out into jubilation and shouts of Allahu Akbar."
All prisoners were taken to the basement, and the court itself was surrounded by hundreds of military police. For security the court session was transferred to Beni Suef from Minya Criminal Court.
The events of the case started on April 18, 2011 over a speed hump built in front of the residence of a wealthy Coptic lawyer, Alaa Reda Roushdi, which a minibus driver claimed was damaging cars. The fight that broke out led to the death of 2 Muslims, injury to 4 Copts, and the destruction and looting of Coptic-owned homes and businesses (AINA 4-26-2011).
Many rights groups criticized the verdict as being "unbelievable" and "extremely harsh" towards the Copts. All the Muslims defendants, "who torched at least 56 Coptic homes, as well as businesses and barns, were acquitted," said Wagdi Halfa, defense attorney of the Coptic victims, in an interview aired yesterday by Coptic TV Channel. He expressed his incomprehension at how Coptic lawyer Alaa Reda Roushdi, who was not even in Abou Qorqas during the events, and then kept under house arrest by the police for another three days, could get life imprisonment.
Adel Roushdi, younger brother of Alaa Roushdi said during the same TV interview that the Islamists wanted to get rid of his brother because of the parliamentary elections, where his brother was sure to win. He accused the police chief in Abou Qorqas of planning the whole episode.
Dr. Naguib Gabriel, president of the Egyptian Union Human Rights Organization, said that one should not keep silent over the continuing harsh verdicts against the Copts. He called upon the military council to stop the implementation of this ruling and to order a re-trial of the case in an ordinary court in another district. He said "where is the conscience and faith of the judge in connection with the torching of Christian homes and shops by Muslims, as reported by the police?" He also questioned the reason for having the case in front of an Emergency State Security court, where no appeal is allowed, while the charges were murder, attempted murder, congregation and carrying of firearms.
Michael Monier, an American-Egyptian activist and head of Life Party, described the verdict as racist and unjust, adding that "it also shows that the Egyptian judiciary takes its orders from higher authorities."
The European Union of Coptic Organizations for Human Rights (EUCOHR) issued a statement yesterday that it will not keep silent about the injustice in this case, and that it is calling for an urgent meeting with members of the European Parliament in Brussels to explain the tragedy of Copts in Egypt . They called upon the governing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to use its constitutional powers to nullify this verdict and present the defendants to another court, where the rule of law and human rights are honored.
Dozens of Coptic human rights organizations and hundreds of Copts staged a sit-in at midday on May 22 in front of the Cairo High Court, denouncing the court ruling. The protesters raised banners bearing the phrase "by the mercy of God, the Egyptian judiciary is dead" and "This is a Country governed by beards and not the law." They chanted "Down with the military," "Muslims and Christians -- one hand," and demanded the equal application of justice and non-discrimination between Egyptians.
Attorney Karam Gabriel, who was present at the sit-in, said that the deputy attorney general called the Coptic lawyers and they presented their grievances against the Court's ruling, "which is beyond belief." He said that the deputy attorney general promised to have a look at the verdict and could then present a grievance memo to the military commander. Karam also said that the president of the bar association will also send a grievance memorandum, because one of the twelve convicted Christians is Alaa Roushdi, a lawyer."
Pastor Boutros Anba Bola, who was at the sit-in today, explained that this unjust verdict is passed at this point in time before the presidential election by an Islamist judge in order to make the Christians feel low and depressed so as not to participate in the voting, besides penalizing them for not wishing to vote for Islamists. He told Coptic activist Mariam Ragy in an audio interview that although he is not supposed to recommend any candidate, still he recommends General Ahmad Shafik, "as he is the best one for the Copts."
In Alexandria, nearly two thousand Copts and Muslims have staged a protest in front of the high court denouncing the "unjust verdict of the Salafist judiciary, said activist Grace Iskandar from International Echo Organization. He said that their sit-in will remain until a just verdict is achieved. Another protest in scheduled in Alexandria for Saturday May 26.