Coptic death demos
- 13-03-2013 01:11PM ET
Coptic death demos
The death of a Coptic Egyptian detained in Libya has angered the Christian community in Egypt, reports Doaa El-Bey
Egyptians protest against the death of Attallah
Ezzat Atallah, a 45-year-old Egyptian Coptic-Christian who was detained in Libya last month with four other Copts on charges of missionary activities, died on Sunday. The death of Atallah caused widespread anger among Egyptian Copts and cast doubt over the true reasons behind his death. Both Egyptian and Libyan officials claim that he died of natural causes; he suffered from diabetes and heart problems. However, various videos and pictures released earlier this month on the Internet showed that the detainees were subject to torture.
Atallah’s family and his lawyer met Egyptian Ambassador to Libya Hisham Abdel-Wahab on Monday. Atallah’s wife told Abdel-Wahab that she met with Libyan authorities, the forensic department and the detainees who were with Atallah when he died. According to the wife, they all said that Atallah died of natural causes.
The embassy took the necessary measures to transfer the body to Egypt on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, dozens of Egyptian Coptic protesters demonstrated on Monday outside the Libyan embassy in Cairo. Angry over Atallah’s death from alleged torture in Libya, the protesters burnt the Libyan flag and clashed with Libyan nationals.
The protests came in response to a call for a sit-in in front of the Libyan embassy by Egypt’s Coptic Youth Front and the Maspero Youth Union.
Protesters carried banners calling for compensation for Atallah’s family and the release of the other Copts arrested on the same charge.
The protesters decided to suspend their sit-in until today (Thursday) after an official from the Libyan embassy promised to consider their demands regarding the release of the rest of the detained Copts. However, they told Libyan officials that if their demands were not met by today, they will stage an open sit-in.
Atallah, who had been accused of practising missionary activities in Libya, was arrested last month together with four Evangelical Christian Egyptians, who all worked as traders in a local market.
Atallah’s brother told the media on Sunday after receiving the news of his brother’s death that his brother had been tortured after being moved from a Benghazi prison prior to the investigations.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry did not comment on the death or issue a statement.
It was another sign of the failure of the Foreign Ministry to act quickly to help its citizens abroad, said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Even if Atallah died of natural causes, there was enough evidence since he and others were arrested earlier that they were tortured,” he added.
Last week, the Coptic Youth Front and the Maspero Youth Union called on the foreign minister to secure the release of the prisoners.
In a statement issued on Monday, the two movements renewed their call for the president and the Foreign Ministry to intervene.
The statement also asked for taking all the necessary legal measures against the Libyan authorities “for committing crimes against humanity”.
The Foreign Ministry managed to secure the release of 20 Copts out of 48 others detained earlier in March who were also accused of proselytising.
They were said to be in possession of copies of the Bible and texts bearing images of Christ and the late Coptic Pope Shenouda. They were also charged with urging Libyan Muslims to convert to Christianity.
Atallah had been moved from Benghazi to Tripoli by the security apparatus to be questioned by the public prosecutor in Tripoli.
His wife who was able to visit him during his detention found his body full of bruises. He told her he was being subjected to brutal treatment, torture and humiliation in order to extract from him incriminating confessions. He was moved to hospital last Wednesday for treatment but was later returned to detention.
More than 100 Copts were detained by the Libyan authorities in Benghazi last month on charges of preaching Christianity. The exact number of the detainees is not known, especially since some of them were released and deported to Egypt while others have yet to be caught. Those returning to Egypt claim that the number stands at more than 200.
The arrests are the latest in a series of incidents in Libya targeting Christians. In December, two Egyptian Christians were killed and two others were injured when suspected Islamist extremists threw a homemade bomb at a Coptic Orthodox church in western Libya.
Four missionaries from Egypt, South Africa, South Korea and Sweden were also recently arrested in Benghazi on charges of printing and distributing material that promoted Christianity.
Other Christians in Benghazi have also been arrested, including several Egyptians and three non-Arab expatriates who were working as language teachers and businessmen. In a meeting at the Shura Council, Ali El-Esheiri, assistant foreign minister for expatriate affairs, declared that the 55 Egyptians detained in Libya were released; 35 had already returned to Egypt and the rest remained in Libya to resume their work. He ruled out any discriminatory treatment against Egyptian Copts. “The Italian church has also been attacked recently,” he added.