Egyptian Christians Decry Murder Case Ruling

Christians in Egypt are upset over a court ruling this past week that sentenced police officers to only five years in prison for the murder of a Coptic man when similar cases would result in life imprisonment or execution.

The family of the slain man accused the court of issuing a lenient sentence and is considering appealing the court ruling on grounds of an error in the application of the law, according to Assyrian International News Agency.

The legal team says the charge should have been classified as "deliberate and premeditated killing," but instead the officers were indicted for "assault leading to death."

Furthermore, although a group of police officers were involved in the murder nearly two years ago, only two have been charged.

In August 2007, Coptic Christian Nasser Gadallah, 39, was thrown out of the window of his fourth story home by a group of police officers as his children watched. The policemen had come to Nasser's house to pressure him to drop a police complaint against one of their fellow officers whom he had accused of taking from him $50 (280 Egyptian pounds) and his cell phone. Nasser said there were similar incidents of extortion previously with that officer.

When Nasser refused to drop the complaint because the officers refused to return the money and his cell phone, the group of police officers beat him with sticks, pushed his wife out of the way, and tied his hands before throwing him out of his window.

"All this because he demanded his rights; he lost his life because he dared asked for his rights," said Nasser's widow, Mariam Mounir Ayoub, according to AINA.

Neighbors who witnessed the brutal scene became enraged and attacked the police officers, injuring four of them. During Nasser's funeral, the thousands of people who turned out chanted anti-police slogans.

Though Coptic Christians are the largest Christian population in the Middle East, they make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population and are often discriminated against socially, economically, and legally in Muslim-dominated Egypt.

Christians need to obtain a building permit to construct a church or remodel one, whereas Muslims are free to build mosques without such permission. Moreover, most to nearly all requests for such church building permits are denied.

In recent years, Muslims and Christians in Egypt have been finding themselves more isolated from and at odds with one another amid increasingly frequent reports of sectarian violence.

Last month, two Christians were shot dead by Muslim villagers in southern Egypt in what was believed to be a revenge killing, and in March, a young Christian man was set on fire and his father murdered after a rumor circulated that he had a romantic relationship with a Muslim young woman.

Earlier this month, a small bomb exploded near a prominent church in Egypt's capital city.

One official told The Associated Press that the explosion near Saint Mary Church in Cairo's Zeitoun district appeared to be intended "to scare rather than to kill."

No casualties were reported and the only damage sustained was to the parked car that the bomb was planted under.