This decision was hailed by the church and the various Coptic rights groups. Besides welcoming the decision of the civilian court as a just verdict considering that the detainees were all innocent, it showed, according to various Coptic organizations, the injustice of the military prosecution’s investigations. A view shared among all Copts is that releasing the detainees is not enough, those responsible for the killings should be brought to justice.
The Maspero case was first brought by the military prosecution, but was later referred to state security interrogation upon an order from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Early last week, upon the request of the defendants‘ lawyers, the general prosecution transferred the case to an independent investigations judge.
The 30 Copts originally detained and the prominent Muslim activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who is expected to be also released next week, were charged with the murder of one soldier, the theft of guns from the armed forces, and damaging private and public property. Two weeks ago three Christians minors, Abanob, Andrew and Hana, aged 16 and 17, who did not participate in the Maspero demonstration, but were arrested from the streets because their Christian tattoos, were released.
The Coptic Orthodox Church, which had previously demanded the release of the detainees, expressed its satisfaction with the verdict. However, outspoken Coptic Priest Filopateer Gameel, founding member of the Maspero Youth Federation, one of the organizers of the October 9 Maspero march, said „Where is the accountability of the persons responsible for the blood that was shed in Maspero?“ adding that the decision to release the detainees confirms the fairness of the Egyptian judiciary, but it also raises questions about the circumstances under which the military police arrested them, and the unlawful renewal more than once of their detention by the military prosecution.
Fr. Filopateer demanded the prosecution of those responsible for the killing of civilians and of the person who gave orders on that night for the military armored vehicles to move to crush the Christian protesters under their wheels, referring to the report of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, which although could not identify those who shot at the demonstrators, confirmed that there were 12 dead people who were crushed by armored vehicles. He said „We will not be happy just to get the innocent out of prison, , and this will definitely not be the end of the case; the authorities must be held accountable for the killing of the demonstrators.“
Copts Without Borders said in a statement that past experience with regards to Coptic cases have the same trend. They start with arbitrary detention of Copts, which aims at twisting the arm of the Copts to relinquish their rights and be diverted away from them by their concern over the detainees. „This limits the ambition of the Copts, of bringing the criminals to justice, and all their hopes are thereby confined to getting the detainees out of prison.“
Copts Without Borders views the decision to release the 27 Maspero detainees as a precursor to entirely closing the Maspero case by the authorities, similar to all previous cases of violence against the Copts including the incident of the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria, which was bombed on New Year’s Day, 2011. It declared its non-acceptance of the decision to merely release the detainees, without punishment of the killers, demanding the opening of a new impartial investigation into the events including the disclosure of the names of those involved from the military who gave orders to fire live ammunition and for the armored vehicles to run over the demonstrators.
Prominent Muslim attorney Essam Kandil, one of the 35-man Maspero defense team, said that he offered his voluntary services because of the „glaring injustices in the case, especially that the victims were picked up from the streets based on being identified as Christians.“ He said the entire defense team will fight until all Coptic victims of the Maspero Massacre, whether those killed, injured or detained for 66 days unlawfully, have received the justice they deserve.“
By Mary Abdelmassih
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