A mob of Muslim villagers in Egypt attacked a church and assaulted Coptic Christians in retaliation for a Facebook post published by a young Coptic man, which Muslim locals considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
Egyptian authorities made a number of arrests in the village of al Barsha, located in the Minya governorate, late last week after the mob began hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at the homes of Copts while others stormed the Abu Siffin Church during a church service, the Middle East Monitor reported Friday.
The rioters also ransacked a number of shops owned by Christians and an elderly Coptic woman was hospitalized for burns suffered in a fire after her home was torched.
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Initial reports said that police had arrested eight people but later reports said they had arrested a hundred people, including 35 Copts.
One video recording circulating on social media showed a group of people chanting: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” as they pelted a crowd of Christians with stones.
General Osama Al Qadi, Governor of the Minya Province, called a meeting at which he said that measures will be taken against “anyone who offends others,” reiterating that “no one will be allowed to sow discord between people who belong to the same nation,” while inviting local imams to focus their sermons in mosques on the themes of peaceful coexistence and tolerance.
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Last week, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that free speech is suffering in Egypt as a number of human rights activists associated with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) have been arrested and blasphemy charges against Christians are on the increase.
Just since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at least five blasphemy cases have been opened against Coptic Christians, ICC said, all of which involved social media, which is closely monitored and restricted in Egypt.
On November 11, Egyptian police arrested a young Christian teacher named Youssef Hany in northeastern Egypt on charges of insulting Islam in a Facebook post.
Mr. Hany posted comments responding to a Muslim who had expressed her opposition to criticisms of Islam by the president of France and other French citizens.
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Although Hany has been released on bail, he could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 500 to 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about $30 to $60) under a blasphemy law that calls for a minimum of six months of prison.
Hany’s attorney has claimed the charges are unconstitutional, since Egypt’s blasphemy law violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and religious liberty. The law is used almost exclusively against critics of Islam and is rarely invoked against anti-Christian comments.
There are approximately 15 million Christians in Egypt out of a total population of over 104 million.