EIPR condemns the pressure exerted on ‘Dimshaw’ Copts to accept customary reconciliation And demands the trial of the attackers, compensating the victims and building a church in the village

By Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights –

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemns the pressure exerted by state authorities on the affected Copts in the village of Dimshaw Hashim in Minya governorate to accept the customary reconciliation in relation to the attacks on some of them and which resulted in the injury of two Copts, looting, smashing and setting four houses on fire. In the aftermath of the Muslim community refusing that the Copts conduct collective prayer and refusing the presence of a church in the village.

The Egyptian Initiative said that despite the atmosphere of tension that prevailed in the village several days before the attacks, and the number of village residents inciting against the Copts on social media, the state authorities did not fulfill its role in preemptive intervention to prevent attacks and protect citizens and their property and their right to practice religious rites. Such negligence occurred once again after the attacks, where security forces came about four hours later.

On Friday, August 31, Copts of Dimshaw Hashim village in Minya were attacked by a number of Muslim villagers after Friday prayers in front of houses owned by Copts in the village. They were: Adel Said Rizk, Reda Abdel-Sayed Rizk, Kamel Fawzy Shehata , Fawzy Shehata Boutros. The crowd chanted slogans against the village Copts in general, and then broke into the houses of those mentioned, looting gold jewelry and money, and destroying electrical appliances and household furniture, and setting houses on fire. Security forces arrested more than 30 people. On Sunday, September 2, Minya’s prosecution issued a decision to imprison 19 defendants for four days pending investigation, and then renewed detention for 15 days on charges of stirring sectarian strife, disturbing the public peace, and vandalizing the property of others.

EIPR criticized the participation of some state officials in pressing the victims to accept the customary reconciliation and give up their rights, without regard to the seriousness of the crimes committed, which amounted to the intimidation of citizens and the looting of property and other criminal offenses as per the Egyptian Penal Code. EIPR stressed that the customary reconciliation sessions have turned into a gateway to evade the implementation of the law, which leads to the repetition of these attacks.

The Egyptian Initiative stressed that the practice of religious rites in a single or collective form, inside a house or inside a religious building or church, is a basic right guaranteed by the Egyptian Constitution and the international human rights covenants ratified by the Egyptian government and should not be controlled by the majority of the population.

Ishak Ibrahim, researcher and Freedom of Religion and Belief officer in EIPR, said:

What happened in Dimshaw Hashim is not a unique case, but a recurrent pattern in a number of governorates that has been going on recently, manifested in closing a number of existing churches and them being unable to settle their legal status. As well as the use of this atmosphere as a preemptive pretext to prevent the construction of new churches in some villages. Or by creating a state of tension and intimidation for the Copts preventing collective prayer inside a house or any preexisting building.

Ibrahim added:

Customary reconciliation sessions often entail decisions to waive the police reports filed against those involved in the attacks, with the closure of the church and the prohibition of practicing religious rites. The case of Dimshaw Hashim and other previous cases confirm the shortcomings of the Church Construction Law in addressing the sectarian tensions and attacks associated with the construction and restoration of churches. It serves to show an urgent need to change this law immediately, especially with the repetition of these attacks and using such attacks as an excuse to close the churches.

EIPR called on the state authorities to complete the legal procedures related to this incident, culminating in the trial of those involved in the attacks, and holding accountable the officials who have failed to intervene despite the presence of indications of an escalation of tension and incitement inside the village. EIPR affirmed the victims rights to receive fair compensation from the state corresponding to the extent of damage they have suffered. The initiative also called on the Minya governorate officials to approve the establishment of a church in the village and the protection of the Copts by the state authorities while building, equipping the church and practicing religious rites in it.

For more details:

“As You Were” The Law on the Construction and Renovation of Churches One Year Later.”

Closed on Security Grounds: Sectarian Tensions and Attacks Resulting from the Construction and Renovation of Churches

“Whose Customs? The Role of Customary Reconciliation in Sectarian Disputes and State Responsibility”

Chronology of events:

Friday 31 August 2018

The Copts of the village of Dimshaw Hashim in Minya governorate in Upper Egypt were subjected to sectarian attacks after dozens of Muslim villagers gathered after Friday prayers in front of the village’s Copts’ houses. They chanted hostile slogans, refusing to have a church. They stormed the houses of Adel Said Rizk, Reda Abdel-Sayed Rizk, Kamel Fawzy Shehata, Fawzy Shehata Boutros, looted gold jewelry and money in the house, and destroyed electrical appliances and household furniture and set the houses on fire.

EIPR obtained reports that the attacks began at 1 pm, after Friday prayers, and lasted till 4:00 pm, and that the security forces arrived after about four hours. The attacks resulted in the injury of Adel Sayed Rizk (54 years) with a vertical wound in his head. And Fadel Attia Naguib with (45 years) with a cut in the upper lip, both were transferred to the Menya General Hospital.

A statement issued by Bishop Makarios, Bishop of Minya, said that the security forces had prior knowledge of the intention of the accused to carry out these acts, after they received news that the Copts were targeted by some of the villagers, but the security did not intervene until the perpetrators were done with their attack.

In his statement, Bishop Makarios said:

The extremists in a neighboring village called Ezbet Sultan have done the same for weeks, and because of the lack of deterrence, the infection has spread to this village, and among the chants it was mentioned they are doing this, like the men of Sultan village, and so the possibility of this extending to other villages is probable, unless the instigators are punished and the perpetrators are deterred.

According to a statement from the Minya Diocese, the Copts of Dimshaw Hashim village were subjected to previous sectarian attacks in 2005, which led some Christian families to leave the village. None of the perpetrators were punished. The statement pointed out that there were calls of incitements against the Copts in these villages on social media platforms. 1

Despite the presence of security forces since Friday evening, the police did not arrest any of the accused, only after the incident was posted on social media and the statement of Bishop Makarios was issued. Only then did the police respond the following day, the first of September, when thirty residents of the village were arrested and police forces imposed strict measures inside the village to prevent the recurrence of events. The prosecution then also examined the damage inflicted on the property of the Copts.

Bishop Makarios addressed the rising tensions in the village before the attacks, in one of his sermons 2:

An official contacted us before Friday, maybe three or four days before, to tell us, “It would be better, if the priest that conducts mass there, refrains from holding mass for the next couple of days as there are tensions” .. And we obeyed for the sake of peace and for the sake of love .. I said to the priest don’t go the coming Friday and Sunday .. Of course the priests go down to all the villages and the towns of the diocese to check on our children and pray mass for them in the houses, even the villages that have no churches and this is quite normal. They visit people and attend to their needs even if they don’t have a church.. But I said to the priest, lets refrain from going this week, in case there is anything going on.

Bishop Makarios added:

It is also regrettable that in the village of Ezbet Sultan and the village of Dimshaw Hashim, the police force assigned to maintain security in the village were hosted in the homes of some of those who were wanted for justice .. I mean one of those wanted by the authorities, hosted the security forces, where they spent the night, eating, drinking as if they are giving him legitimacy to continue violations and abuses against the Copts.

On Sunday, September 2nd, Minya’s prosecution issued a decision to imprison 19 defendants for four days pending investigation. They were charged with inciting sectarian strife, disturbing the public peace and vandalizing the property of others. Their detention was later renewed for 15 more days.

The attacks this time are not about building or repairing a church, but because of the extremists’ rejection of the presence of Christians in the village,” said Bishop Makarios to EIPR.

EIPR obtained a number of testimonials confirming that some officials put pressure on Christian villagers to accept customary reconciliation and relinquish their legal rights in order for peace and quiet to prevail once again in the village.

And in a similar vein, the “Reconciliation and Peace” association issued a statement, titled, “A Invitation”: “In order to preserve the unity of the country and the fabric of our homeland and to maintain security, and in order to maintain the friendship between the children of one nation and in cooperation with security officials responsible for the safety of our homeland, the committee has the honor to invite the officials of the Beit-al ‘Aela in Minya Governorate to cooperate with the committee in repairing the rift between the villagers and to help reconciliation.”

In response to this call, Bishop Makarios wrote on his Twitter account September 9, saying:

We categorically reject any customary reconciliation sessions, we do not recognize their results, and we condemn the pressure put on some simple people to sit for these sessions. The sessions waste their rights and reconciliation is often achieved at the expense of the Copts. We are with the rule of law and citizenship advocated by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Footnotes:

1. The Egyptian Initiative has examples of calls for incitement that spread through social media (Facebook)

2. The sermon of Bishop Makarios on 5 September.

3. Telephone testimony on 2 September 2018.

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