Renewed imprisonment of 9 Copts accused of demonstrating in order to issue a decision to rebuild a church, and EIPR calls for their release
Sunday, March 13, 2022, the Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to renew the detention of nine Copts for a period of fifteen days, pending investigations in Supreme State Security Prosecution Case No. 65 of 2022. This comes against the backdrop of dozens of residents of Ezbet Faragallah, affiliated to Samalut district, north of Minya governorate, demonstrating on January 22 at the headquarters of the Diocese of Samalut, and organizing a protest sit-in in Ezbet the next day to demand the re-establishment of St. Joseph and Abu Sefein Church in Ezbet.
On January 30, 2022, security forces in Minya Governorate arrested Mounir Samir Mounir, Raymond Mamdouh William, Jaid Saad Zekry, Milad Mahrous Tawfiq, Abanoub Magdy Semaan, Gerges Samir Gerges, Shenouda Salib Hosni, Mina Salib Hosni, and Milad Reda Tawfiq Ayyad.
After the arrest of those nine, they were taken to the headquarters of the National Security Apparatus in Minya Governorate, and then sent for interrogation at the Supreme State Security Prosecution on February 2 and 3, 2022, pending State Security Prosecution case 65 of 2022. They were charged with participating in an assembly that endangers public peace, and committing a terrorist act with the aim of disturbing public security. Meanwhile, the accusation of "arranging a gathering that affects public authority" was added to Munir Samir Munir, known as Marco Samir. The State Security Prosecution decided to imprison the defendants for 15 days pending investigations, then renewed the detention decision on paper on February 12, 2022 without presenting them in person to the prosecution to hear their statements nor in the presence of their lawyers.
The church, which is the only facility in the village where religious services are held, was issued an official demolition decision, which was implemented in July 2021. The church building was completely destroyed in 2016 after a fire broke out, and the investigation authorities have not announced the cause of the fire until now. Some of the people of the hamlet attributed the fire, which led to the cessation of religious prayers since that date, to what they described as a “deliberate act.”
On May 4, 2021, the Official Gazette published Prime Minister Decision No. 16 of 2021 to regularize the status of 82 churches and affiliated buildings. The eighth article of the decision stipulated: “The decision of the Dilapidated Facilities Committee in Minya Governorate to demolish the building of the Church of Saint Joseph and Abu Sefein in Ezbet Faraj Allah, Samalut, Minya, is implemented up to the ground level, provided that legal measures are taken.” Subsequently, the church applied for a demolition permit from Minya Governorate, which was approved by License No. (102202-200021) for the year 2021 for the entire area of the church of 800 square meters, and it was implemented in July 2021. Then the church submitted a request for reconstruction, and it did not receive any responses from administrative and security authorities, and in violation of the Church Building Law No. 60 of 2016, which specified a four-month period to respond to requests submitted to it.
The official in charge of the freedom of religion and belief file at EIPR said, "Instead of arresting a number of residents of the estate, official and security authorities should have responded promptly to their demands and issued a decision to rebuild the church for which an official demolition decision was issued by the Prime Minister, especially since the villagers took the legal path. They also submitted the church documents to the responsible authorities, and the demolition was carried out with official approvals”.
EIPR demanded the release of the nine Copts in the village of Ezbet Faraj Allah, and the dropping of all charges against them, along with the speedy issuance of the decision to rebuild the church that was demolished.
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