A military court in Egypt has sentenced 17 people to death and dozens of others to varying prison sentences on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The sentences were given for three horrific church bombings that occurred in 2016 and 2017 and for involvement in the terrorist group Daesh, which has ties to ISIS.
In addition to the death sentences, 19 other people were sentenced to life in prison, nine people to 15-year prison sentences, and one person to a 10-year sentence.
The attacks these individuals were involved in included three different incidents including the bombing of a Coptic Cathedral in Cairo in December 2016. Twenty-five people were killed in that attack. In April 2017, a total of 45 people were killed in nearly simultaneous bombings of churches in Alexandria and Tanta. The terrorists chose the first day of the Holy Week leading up to Easter to execute these attacks—ensuring there would be a larger number of people attending services that week.
The Coptic Church Is Familiar With Terror
Egypt’s Coptic community, which makes up about 10 percent of its overall 91 million citizens, is no stranger to violence and terror. In May 2017, just a short time after the Easter week attacks, 26 people were killed as they were making their way to worship at a monastery outside of Minya, Egypt.
Even outside of Egypt Coptic Christians are the targets of attacks. Few will be able to forget the images of men in orange jumpsuits being executed in Libya by ISIS terrorists. These men were also Coptic Christians from Egypt. While the attack took place in 2015, the bodies of these martyrs were only just returned to Egypt in May of this year.
Despite the terror that these believers live with on a daily basis, the Coptic Church has not retaliated nor backed away from their faith out of fear. For their peaceful response to the attacks, the church was nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. It is the first time an ethno-religious group has been nominated, and while they did not receive the award, the fact that they were nominated speaks to the international recognition of the church’s plight.
Amnesty International’s Concern Over the Sentencing
While it does appear as if justice is being served for a few of the attacks that have plagued the Coptic church these last few years, the watchdog group Amnesty International believes the trial—held in a military court and not a civil court—is a violation of the defendants’ human rights. While Amnesty International calls the attacks the defendants are on trial for “utterly reprehensible,” they believe the “unfair military trial” will do little to “deter further sectarian attacks.” The group believes the defendants must be retried in a civilian court with “proceedings that comply with international human rights law and fair trial standards,” a spokesperson for the group told reporters.
The Egyptian site AhramOnline is reporting that the sentences doled out today can still be appealed before a higher military court.