THE Emergency State Security Court in Egypt has sentenced a Muslim man to death after convicting him of killing six Copts in a drive-by shooting as worshippers were leaving a church in Nag Hammadi in January last year (News, 15 January 2010). Amnesty International has condemned the court’s decision.
Mohammed Ahmed Hassanein was found guilty of the premeditated murder of the six Copts and a Muslim guard, and the attempted murder of nine people, who were wounded in the attack.
Some Egyptian commentators have speculated about the timing of the court’s decision, shortly after the New Year’s Eve bombing at a church in Alexandria, in which 23 Copts were killed (News, 7 January). They have suggested that the conviction might be intended to placate Egypt’s Copts and show that the authorities are taking a tough stand against anti-Christian violence.
Amnesty International also questioned the circumstances of the trial, and called on the authorities to commute Mr Hassanein’s death sentence. While deploring the crime itself, Amnesty said it feared “that such a harsh penalty might not be based on the evidence available but rather be intended to show the determination of the authorities to combat sectarian violence, especially after the Alexandria church bombing”.
Rather than imposing the death sentence for sectarian murders, Amnesty said, the Egyptian government should “begin by lifting all the legal and other restrictive measures in place against Copts and other religious minorities”.
The leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, cancelled a planned celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany on Tuesday because of security concerns. A large number of people had been expected to attend. An adviser to Pope Shenouda said that people were fearful after al-Qaeda threats to target Christians and the bombing in Alexandria.