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Death for murderer of six Copts

19 January 2011

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

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.

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