The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemned today the use of excessive violence by security forces against Coptic demonstrators who were protesting the suspension of construction on a church in the Talibiya area of Giza this morning. The violence left at least one Christian demonstrator dead and dozens more injured, including some security personnel. The EIPR asked the Public Prosecutor to immediately announce the findings of investigation into the events and prosecute those responsible for opening fire on the Coptic assembly.
“Today’s events are a serious escalation in the state’s treatment of its Christian citizens. We’re not talking about social violence occasioned by the construction of a church, but rather security forces opening fire on protestors demanding their constitutional right to worship without arbitrary interference or discrimination,” said Hossam Bahgat, EIPR's Executive Director. “Even assuming Copts in the area wanted to convert a services building into a church for worship, that does not justify this degree of police violence. Demonstrators should not be shot at for violating building codes”.
Clashes occurred this morning between security forces and two separate gatherings of several hundred Copts, one on al-Ikhlas St., parallel to the Ring Road in the Talibiya area, where the building in dispute is located, and the other in front of the Giza governor’s office in Omraniya, where local Copts were protesting the fact that governorate officials had suspended construction on the building. Speaking to the media, the officials said that those in charge of the building had violated the building permit for the construction of a social and medical services building, adding a dome to the building in preparation for its conversion into a church.
According to field research and eyewitness statements collected by EIPR researchers today, security used tear gas when the Coptic demonstrators cut the Ring Road to protest the suspension of construction and in response to news that governorate officials intended to demolish the almost completed building. Security forces also opened fire on the demonstrators, who threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Central Security Forces.
Several witnesses said that security forces also opened fire on protestors who later assembled in front of the Giza governorate building. Those assembled broke some of the building’s windows and damaged part of the fence around it, as well as some private cars.
According to officials with the Ministry of Health, the clashes led to the death of Makarius Gad Shaker, 19, who “was dead on arrival at the Umm al-Masriyin Hospital and whose body is now being held by the Public Prosecutor”, according to a statement from the ministry. The website of the official newspaper al-Ahram said that the deceased died following a gunshot wound to his thigh. Medical sources in Giza said that 67 people were injured; 36 were taken to the Umm al-Masriyin Hospital, among them 12 members of the Central Security Forces, all of whom sustained bruising and one of whom sustained a fracture in his right shoulder. A list of the injured issued by the hospital contains the name of Thomas Butrus Shamshum, 17, who was shot in the face and neck.
Security sources said that 93 “rioters” were arrested, while church sources said that 200 people had been detained. The Public Prosecutor appointed a team of prosecutors from the southern Giza office to investigate the incident and question the injured and witnesses.
The EIPR reiterates the need for the state to comply with its commitments and promises to end discriminatory regulations for the construction of houses of worship in Egypt and uphold the constitutional right to freedom of worship. “Today’s painful events would not have occurred if the state did not continue to violate its obligation to guarantee freedom of religion and belief for all citizens without discrimination,” Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the EIPR’s Freedom of Religion and Belief Program said.