Published: 10:45 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 18 October 2011
Egyptian military accused of lying over denial of anti-Christian violence
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt
The Egyptian military has been accused of lying about its role in the violence that left at least 25 people dead last week after generals denied firing on Christian protestors and running over them in armoured vehicles.
Generals from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces blamed Christian protestors for the violence, accusing them of “savage” attacks on the military. At a press conference last Wednesday (12 October) Maj Gen Adel Emara denied troops opened fire at protestors, claiming that their weapons did not contain live ammunition. He also claimed that the military were “trying to avoid running into protestors, not rolling over them”.
His account has been challenged with compelling evidence to the contrary. Khaled Abdel-Hamid, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, said:
These are blatant lies. The witnesses and the video clips prove that there was monstrous suppression by the army of a peaceful protest.
Journalist Samwel el-Ashay added:
At a certain point, things got out of hand and the armoured vehicles running around were actually rolling over protestors. I saw it with my eyes.
Autopsies and forensic reports also refute the military’s version of events; a third of the victims – most of whom were Christians – were killed by being run over by armoured vehicles, while two-thirds were shot with live ammunition.
Liberal political groups accused the military of lying about the violence and demanded criminal prosecution of the commander of the military police involved in the clashes.
As the military rulers seek to fend off growing criticism over the violence, the military prosecutor said that he will take over the investigation, effectively barring the civilian prosecutor from continuing his own enquiry. The move has been criticised by activists and rights groups, who said that the investigation would not be impartial.
State media criticised
Meanwhile, Egyptian state television has also come under fire for its part in fuelling the violent assault on Christian protestors. It has been accused of spreading false information and inciting violence against Christians. During the clashes, news readers appealed for “honest Egyptians” to protect their soldiers against Christian “mobs”, while the Christians were denounced as “sons of dogs”.
There have been calls for Information Minister Osama Heikal to resign. And last Thursday (13 October) hundreds of journalists, broadcasters and public media figures marched to the state TV building in Maspero to denounce the “sectarianism of the media”; they called for a clean-up of state TV.
Calls for justice
Last Sunday’s protest was sparked by the torching of a church in Aswan Province on 30 September; it was the latest in a long line of violent anti-Christian incidents. Following the assault on Christian protestors, senior Egyptian Church leaders have made calls for all unresolved attacks on Christians and churches to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
The government has pledged to make changes to the laws regarding church buildings that many Christians feel are discriminatory and legitimise Muslim hostility towards them. But previous promises to lift the restrictions on church buildings have not been fulfilled.
The leader of an Egyptian Church in the UK said that Egypt was at a “turning point” when the country can either embrace “positive reform and the building of a new Egypt … that instils a sense of citizenship, ownership and responsibility into every Egyptian”, or continue “leaving unlawful acts unresolved and unprosecuted, presenting one part of the community as a justifiable target, and continuing to drive a wedge between members of a single society, and this will lead to the demise of all... [I]t is Egypt that will weaken if Egyptians do not stand together, and if this unhealthy separation and discrimination continues."
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