At midnight of Tuesday the 16th of September, Egyptian security forces dragged dozens of Coptic Christians in an Upper Egypt village out of their beds, tied their hands behind their backs and beat them while raiding their houses, according to testimonies collected by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The incident in Deir Gabal Al Tair village took place after the disappearance of Iman Morqos Sarufim amid allegations from her family that she was kidnapped by a Muslim resident of a nearby village. The people of Deir Gabal el-Tair protested around the local police station several times to pressure the police to investigate the alleged kidnapping while the police asserted that Ms. Sarufim ran away and converted to Islam willingly. This sparked scuffles between police and local residents that left the windshield of a police vehicle and civil defense vehicle smashed.
The use of this form of collective punishment against entire communities is a common police practice. It is most commonly seen in police dealings with sectarian incidents, which often entail flagrant violations of provisions in the Egyptian constitution and international conventions that uphold human dignity, protect against torture and other forms of cruel or inhumane treatment, and preserve the sanctity of private property and life.
“If some demonstrators attacked police personnel and hurled stones at them, then it is a transgression that needs to be addressed in accordance to the law. But in no way does it justify the use of collective punishment on the village, use excessive violence, and engage in degrading practices”, said Ishak Ibrahim, the officer for EIPR’s Freedom of Religion and Belief Program.
According to testimonies collected by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the police raided many homes in Deir Gabal al-Tayr, destroyed property inside the houses, assaulted the residents, used excessive violence against many of the villagers and arbitrarily arrested dozens of locals. Many of the victims claimed that some police personnel engaged in looting during the raids.
The EIPR urges the Public Prosecution to launch a fair, impartial investigation into allegations against police by residents of Deir Gabal al-Tayr. The findings of this investigation should be made public and those responsible for abuses referred to trial. The EIPR also calls for an investigation into allegations made by Iman Morqos Sarufim against Interior Ministry leaders. Recently, she appeared in videotaped in her home accusing the Interior Ministry of lying when he claimed that she had converted; Sarufim confirmed that she was kidnapped.
Sarufim’s husband, Sameh Erian, a Christian from the village of Deir Gabal al-Tayr, located in the district of Samalout in the northern Minya governorate, filed a police report on the 3rd of September regarding the disappearance of his wife and accusing a Muslim, Sami Ahmed Abd al-Rahman, of being behind her disappearance. The security apparatus informed Erian that his wife had left her home of her own free will and that there was no suspicion of foul play. After two weeks that involved small protests and negotiations with security and executive leaders of the province, hundreds of local Copts organized a demonstration in front of the Deir Gabal al-Tayr police station on the 16th of September, during which demonstrators and security personnel engaged in skirmishes that left a police vehicle and a civil defense vehicle with broken windshields.
The evening of that same day, security forces carried out a raid on dozens of area homes, smashing their contents, beating and insulting residents, and arresting, torturing, and treating dozens of residents in a degrading manner. The detainees each had their hands bound behind their backs, after which each group was bound together with one rope and dragged to the police station, while being hit with batons and rifle butts and made to repeat demeaning expressions.
In a meeting between the interior minister and a Coptic delegation from the Minya governorate on the 23rd of September, the minister said that Sarufim had converted to Islam and showed the delegation a copy of her conversion certificate, dated 15 September—that is, one day before the attacks. He promised to compensate the owners of the homes for any damages.
Sarufim then emerged, on the 26th of September, affirming that she had been kidnapped under threat of arms. Her abductor forced her to wear a headscarf, she said, took her photo, and pasted the photo on a conversion certificate in her name, although she did not go to al-Azhar head office (mashyakhat al-Azhar).
“The unfortunate events that took place in Deir Gabal el-Tayr reveal one of the roots of the main problem which is the absence of a clear policy and specific laws to guarantee the freedom of faith, regardless of what it is, and the freedom of citizens to change their religion whenever they want.”
The EIPR reiterates that is the state’s responsibility to resolve sectarian disputes following the principle of the rule of law, without engaging in collective punishment, customary law, or other methods that do not indicate respect for the citizenship rights of religious minorities.
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