Reason, Liberty, & Culture

Egyptian Coptic Christians allege police torture

CAIRO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Coptic Christian clergy in Egypt have contacted human rights groups and ministries alleging that police tortured 1,000 members of the minority church living in a southern village, a priest said on Wednesday.

"What happened in our village was totally inhumane," said Paula Fouad, a priest at the archbishopric which supervises the Coptic church in Kashah, 400 km (250 miles) south of Cairo.

Fouad said he and Kashah's prieset, Gabriel Abdel-Masih, this month sent a protest letter to the Egyptian Centre for Human Rights and National Unity (ECHRNU), the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) and Egypt's interior ministry.

The letter, obtained by Reuters, alleged police in Kashah "detained about 1,000 villagers and tortured them."

Fouad alleged the motive was to try to elicit confessions for the murder in mid-August of two Copts in Kashah.

"For 30 days, they were torturing everyone, even women and children," he said, adding they were beaten, flogged and electrocuted.

An interior ministry official contacted on Wednesday referred queries about Copts to the foreign ministry.

Naela Gabr, head of the foreign ministry's human rights department, said she was not aware of the case but "an investigation would immediately be opened if the villagers themselves complained to the foreign ministry.

ECHRNU Chairman Moris Sadeq told Reuters he received the protest letter and was investigating while EOHR's Mahmoud Kandil said he also received the letter but could not confirm the police action was on religious grounds.

Both organisations said they were prompted to follow the case after the church took the unusual step of faxing rights groups for "urgent help to save the Copts of Kashah."

Kandil said: "Normally Coptic leaders solve their problems with police quietly. This is a sign that the police were really harsh on them."

The EOHR has said police often use force to extract confessions, especially in the less-developed Upper Egypt area.

Official figures say there are six million Copts in predominantly Moslem Egypt. According to the EOHR, 96 Copts were among about 1,300 people killed in violence by Moslem militants since they started their bid to overthrow the government in 1992.

Copyright 1998 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved.

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