CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Egypt's Military Prosecutor decided on Nov. 3 to continue the detention of 34 Coptic Christians for another 15 days, pending investigations on charges of inciting violence, carrying arms and insulting the armed forces during the Oct. 9 Maspero massacre, which claimed the lives of 27 Christians and injured 329. The court session was attended by more than 20 defense lawyers. The case was adjourned to November 18.
Egyptian journalist Mary Abdelmassih, writing for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), says that according to defense lawyers, most of the detainees were arrested after October 9, and some were not even at the Maspero protest and were just collected from the streets for "being a Christian."
According to AINA, three of them were teens under 16 years old and another had an operation to extract a bullet from his jaw and was chained to his bed in hospital, said defense lawyer Ibrahim Edward. "After the operation he was sent straight to prison where he cannot eat without feeding tubes, so he lives on juices."
AINA says prominent activist Alaa Abdel-Fatah, who criticized the army for the Maspero massacre, was arrested on Oct. 30, charged with inciting violence, seizing military equipment, and vandalizing military property. He refused to answer questions from the military prosecutors "in a case where the military is accused of committing a massacre when their APCs ran over peaceful protesters in front of Maspero on Oct. 9," his lawyer Ahmed Seif Al-Islam, former director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, is quoted as saying.
AINA states that Abdel-Fatah also played a big role in convincing the families of the Maspero Coptic victims to agree to have the bodies of their relatives autopsied in order to have proof that the military caused their death.
AINA reports that two days ago, Mikhail Naguib, a Copt, was arrested at his home by the military and accused of stealing a machine gun and using it to kill Copts in Maspero on Oct. 9.
According to the AINA report, the military prosecutors claimed that the gun, a type used by the army, was stolen from one of the APCs at Maspero. The army said that a taxi driver who brought Naguib on that night from Maspero to his home in the run-down area of Sharabia witnessed that he had a gun bundled in a plastic bag with him.
In an interview aired on the "The Way" Christian TV, Michael's father said the army and police found nothing at home, and that they beat his son and took him away in his underwear.
AINA reports that Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, said that this latest arrest and these extremely serious accusations raises questions about the intentions of the army. He wondered about the evidence the military has regarding these charges, and whether with this arrest the real culprits will not be brought to justice.
Families of detainees appeared in an interview with Coptic Channel CTV and told how their sons and husbands were arrested, AINA said.
In its report, AINA says that Ms. Magda, mother of Mina Talaat, said that her son did not attend the Maspero protest but was arrested after the violence at 8:30 in one of the roads leading to Maspero.
"Mina was stopped by a soldier, who called a group of 20 people to come quickly, as he had found a Christian," she said. "The group beat Mina with short leather batons until his jaw was broken and he had to hold it back with his hand. He also had wounds in the head requiring 12 stitches."
According to the AINA report, Mina told his mother on her first visit that he hid under an armored personnel carrier, but was dragged out and taken to a room on the third floor of the TV building, together with other Copts, and they were beaten until 8 a.m. He was then taken to el-Kobah Military Hospital where he was chained to his bed. She said that Mina had a large tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his arm and "the soldier was so angry about that he wanted to shoot him."
Ms. Mariam, wife of Mr. Amin Mouneer Ayad, who was at work and was dropped off by his company's bus near Maspero after 11:00, said that a soldier asked her husband if he was a Christian and saw the tattooed cross on his wrist, then took him away to a room all covered in blood. After taking his money and cell phone, the soldiers beat him until he lost consciousness.
"I did not recognize him at hospital," said his wife. "His eyes were so swollen that when he cried no tears were flowing."
The Al-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture said on its Facebook page that Mr. Amthal Mahmoud Abdel-Fattah, a Muslim arrested at Maspero by the military, was said by his mother to be mentally handicapped. Military prosecutors transferred him to Abbassiya mental hospital, which decided to keep him "until he comes back to his senses," as per the hospital report.
"To arrest the victims and not the assailants shows the extent of persecution and humiliation the Copts are experiencing," said Medhat Kelada, head of the Union of Coptic Organizations in Europe. "If there is any justice, the military prosecution should instead investigate the crimes committed by the military police."
AINA also reported that a list of suspects to be questioned by the military prosecutors with regards to the Maspero violence was published by the media, which included clergy, in addition to political movements like the Maspero Coptic Youth Union, Copts Without Borders and April 6. It also included the deceased Coptic protester Mina Danial, known from the Jan. 25 Tahrir protests, who died in the Maspero massacre from gun shots.
AINA further reported that Father Filopateer was interrogated by the prosecution on Oct. 26 and he completely refused to cooperate with the military investigation because he is a civilian, and because it is biased and is part of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with whom "… we are direct opponents in this case. I accused the SCAF, Field Marshal Tantawi and Brigadier Badeen, head of military police of being directly responsible for the Maspero Massacre." He said that the SCAF was fishing for incriminating evidence.
AINA also said Father Mattias Nasr went to the military prosecutor on Oct. 20. He said that he did not expect to be accused, wondering how a victim could become a culprit. He described the investigations as a sort counterbalance to what was unveiled in the conference held on Oct. 20 by the Maspero Coptic Youth Union. The conference accused the military of murdering the demonstrators through video footage and witnesses.
Human rights groups have criticized the ongoing arrests, denounced military trials for civilians and called for the transfer of the investigation of the case from military to civilian prosecutors.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The military cannot investigate itself with any credibility. This had been an essentially peaceful protest until the military used excessive force and military vehicles ran over protesters. The only hope for justice for the victims is an independent civilian-led investigation that the army fully cooperates with and cannot control and that leads to the prosecution of those responsible."
Activist Mark Ebeid, who attended the Maspero protest, said, "They are arresting Christians and levying accusation at them, most of which are really absurd, in an attempt to implicate them in the killings," adding: "The Junta is trying to justify the impossible, which is putting the blame on someone else. We all witnessed the killings with our own eyes on that bloody Sunday."
Michael Ireland is senior correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station.
Publication date: November 7, 2011