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Egyptian Christian Teens Arrested and Charged in Church Incident

Mary Abdelmassih | 5 December 2010

(AINA) -- In what is viewed as a precedent by right groups, Egyptian state security forces opened fire on November 24 on Christian Copts, killing four, wounding 78, detaining hundreds and charging 170 with grievous charges -- "enough to keep them behind bars for 10-15 years," says Coptic political analyst Magdy Khalil.

Working at the construction site of their new church in Talbiya, Omraniya, an area south of Cairo densely populated by poor Christians, the congregation was surprised at dawn by nearly 5000 security forces, opening fire on them with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. They responded by hurling stones or throwing back at them their tear gas bombs (video). To protest against this attack, nearly 3000 area Copts went to the Governorate building, where they were met again with a hail of live ammunition and tear gas; many were wounded and arrested. Coptic youth hurled stones, broke glass and two kiosks (AINA 11-30-2010).
The true number of those arrested is unknown as not all are yet charged. It was reported that police are still arresting Coptic men from the area, making families stay indoors. 170 men have been charged to-date.
Rights lawyers learned lately of 22 Coptic minors were arrested by security from the church site. Some, as young as 16, were hiding inside the church building but "hunger brought them out after 2-3 days, when forces caught them, saying they would send them to their families, but instead arrested them," reported Mariam Ragy. They were sent to Al-Marg Juvenile Detention Center, northern-east of Cairo.
Lawyer Adel Mikhail, who represented two of them on December 1, said: "They are just overwhelmed and terrorized kids, mostly 16-year-olds, who had nothing to do with the protests. They were at church doing odd jobs like moving sand." Police interrogated them on the day of the incidents without the presence of lawyers, who were prevented by security. They were all charged with attempted and premeditated murder, destruction of state property with intention of terrorism, theft of Interior Ministry's property, intentionally disrupting public transport, and rioting.
Mikhail decried that two of his adult clients who were injured were were sent to detention before they were healed. One underwent an operation to remove bullets from his abdomen and the other had both legs broken after falling off the scaffolding at church due to tear gas fired in his direction. "I will present a complaint to Attorney General to bring them back to hospital."
Dr. ElBaradei, former IAEA Director General, called the incident a "Stain on the conscience of Egypt." The government claimed the Coptic Church attempted to present a "fait accompli" by building a church when they had a permit for a community center, and called the protesters "thugs" who wanted to take the law in their own hands.
The Governor of Giza went on national TV to justify his actions, saying the Copts hid by some sort of material a "dome" which indicates that the building would become a church for religious services and not a community services center as claimed. But prior to the demonstrations the Governor had sent to the Church congregation his secretary, who congratulated them on the Governor changing the permit to allow the building to be a church (video).
The Church Diocese in Giza issued a statement refuting the Governor's allegations, saying "The Governor of Giza gave instructions to modify the services building to a church building, but a decision by the Chief of the District to halt construction and remove the irregularities angered the people, who congregated next to the building, fearing that the district authorities would cause damage to it, triggered the events and the clashes."
Father Mina Zarif of Mar Mina Church, criticized the media for portraying the Coptic youths as if they were registered criminals, making Molotov cocktails. "I doubt if any of those peaceful people know what a Molotov cocktail looks like," he said, "let alone make one." He added that what happened is a crime but the real perpetrators were not the protesting Copts. "Although wrong, they released their anger by breaking glass and hurling stones at the Governorate building."
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