Nineteen people accused of involvement in a Friday attack on Coptic homes in the Minya village of Dimshaw Hashim were handed 15-day detention renewal orders on Tuesday, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, the head of the religious freedoms unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
While at least 30 people were reported as being arrested on Saturday, Anba Makarios, the bishop of the Diocese of Minya and Abu Qurqas, leveled criticism at the authorities for their response to the attack.
He reported that a group of Muslim residents attacked four Coptic homes in the village, looting the properties and setting fire to the houses, in a statement issued on the day of the incident. The assailants also assaulted several people, leading to the hospitalization of two Coptic residents and one firefighter who was at the scene.
In a Monday meeting held in Dimshaw Hashim, the bishop called for the perpetrators of the attack to be punished, and for compensation to be provided to those who were injured or whose property was lost or damaged in the attack. He posted a tweet later that evening stating that he regretted the authorities’ failure to prevent and deter the attack.
According to his Friday statement, a number of residents had filed reports in the days preceding the attacks with local police, indicating that some within the village were intending to carry out an attack to protest against Coptic Christians using residential properties in the area for prayers. The bishop emphasized that, despite the reports, security forces did not arrive in Dimshaw Hashim until after attacks were carried out.
The Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya has been the site of frequent sectarian attacks in recent years, with 77 incidents recorded as taking place between January 2011 and 2016, according to an EIPR report. Most of the cases resulted from objections to the building of new churches and to the use of houses as places of worship. Last October, three churches in Minya were closed in just two weeks. Although Parliament approved a church-building law to regulate the building and renovation of churches in 2016, it has done little to stem the rate of violent incidents.
Several weeks before the incident in Dimshaw Hashim, on July 31, similar attacks were carried in the governorate in the Minya village of Ezbet Sultan, which, according to the bishop’s statement, were also for reasons related to the use of buildings for prayer. The bishop warned that due to the lack of an effective deterrent, such attacks are likely to continue.
Those detained in relation to the late August attack were not arrested until after the news broke and spread across social media, and Makarios issued a statement, Ibrahim pointed out. As such, he told Mada Masr that some of those in detention were not involved in the attack while others who were, or who encouraged it on social media, have not been arrested.
The researcher told Mada Masr that he believes Coptic residents of the village may also be arrested, which happens in some cases in an attempt to portray the incidents as sectarian clashes, rather than targeted attacks. When this occurs, he told Mada Masr that both Muslim and Christian defendants are often cleared of all charges, with little distinction made between those who carry out attacks and those acting in response.
In its International Religious Freedom report for 2017, published in May 2018, the US State Department criticized the Egyptian government’s practices with regards to ensuring religious freedoms. It noted the high frequency of “violence against churches and Christian-owned properties in various locales,” as well as highlighting that victims of sectarian violence continued to be “pressured to drop charges in the spirit of ‘reconciliation’.” It also criticized the government for continuing to prosecute religious leaders on charges of “denigration.” In addition, the State Department also condemned restrictions preventing some citizens to worship, marry and access education in accordance with their religious beliefs.