Beliefnet
CAIRO, Egypt, Feb. 7 (AP) - Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, has rejected court rulings convicting only four of 96 defendants in this week's trial over deadly Muslim-Christian clashes one year ago.

Speaking Tuesday night in a lecture at Cairo's International Book Fair, Shenouda said the church would appeal the verdicts to a higher court.

On Monday, a southern Egyptian court sentenced four Muslims to light prison terms for taking part in the violence that erupted Jan. 2, 2000, a few days after an argument between a Muslim customer and a Coptic Christian shopkeeper in el-Kusheh, 275 miles south of Cairo. The fighting, which spread to the neighboring village of Dar el-Salam, left 21 people dead, all but one of them Copts.

``This is unacceptable to us and we will go the court for an appeal,'' Shenouda said.

The pope did not say how the church will make the appeal on behalf of the victims families but one of his senior aides, Father Besenti, told reporters after the lecture that the church is discussing the move with its lawyers.

Fifty-seven Muslims were tried, 38 of them for murder. The most serious charges against the 39 Christian defendants were looting, arson and attempted murder. The trial began in June.

In his verdict, presiding Judge Mohamed Affifi accused three el-Kusheh priests of failing to break up the quarrel that sparked the rioting. He urged the Coptic Church to take ``the moral responsibility and discipline'' the three priests.

On Tuesday, security was tight around the lecture hall as hundreds of Copts gathered for the rare public appearance of their spiritual leader. Large video screens were set up outside to allow the crowd outside to watch Shenouda.

Shenouda politely refused to answer a question from the audience on whether he feels that Egyptian Copts are persecuted, instead asking the moderator, a senior Ministry of Culture official, to answer. The official declined.

Egypt's Christians, who are mostly Orthodox Copts, comprise 10 percent of the country's 64 million people and generally live peacefully with the overwhelmingly Muslim population.

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