Maspero — the absence of justice

On October 9, 2011, I witnessed the Egyptian military brutally murder dozens of Coptic Christians, using excessive force against peaceful protesters near the state television building Maspero. No one has been held accountable, although a military court sentenced three soldiers to between two and three years imprisonment on charges of “involuntary manslaughter.” It has been four years now since the Maspero massacre, and justice has yet to be been served.

The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power following Mubarak’s downfall on February 2011. SCAF was supposed to oversee a peaceful transition of authority, through free and democratic elections. Instead the period was characterized by restrictions on human rights, military trials for civilians and the use of excessive force to disperse demonstrations. SCAF and the Islamists entered an alliance, whereby hundreds of jailed militants were freed and Islamic currents given freedom for their political activities, and in return the Muslim Brotherhood supported all of SCAF’s decisions.

This alliance badly affected Copts, as they suffered from various sectarian attacks, while the state failed to protect their lives, churches, homes or livelihoods.

According to my statistics, by the end of September 2011, the Coptic community suffered from at least eleven sectarian attacks since January. The common pattern in these attacks was the state failure to provide the necessary protection for Copts creating impunity for the perpetrators of violence.

On September 30, 2011, an Islamist-led sectarian attack took place in Al-Marynab village in the governorate of Aswan, following an attempt to renovate a church. In reaction, Coptic movements launched multiple demonstrations demanding that authorities provide protection for Copts and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Copts declared a sit-in at Maspero area on October 4 when authorities failed to meet their demands. A few hours later, military police forcibly assaulted the protesters and dispersed the sit-in. A video posted on YouTube showing army solders brutally assaulting a young man was painful to watch and inspired thousands of peaceful protesters, the majority of whom were Copts, to march from Shubra district to Maspero on Sunday October 9, 2011. Protesters were assaulted within an hour by unknown assailants wielding bottles and rocks. As they approached Maspero, the military attacked.

I managed to reach the Maspero area earlier than most of the protesters. I watched a number of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) parked in front of the Maspero building. Once the number of protesters started to increase, soldiers fired in the air and the APCs began to move.  The vehicles were deliberately driven by soldiers at high speed toward protesters in crowded areas. I was one meter away, when the APC ran over a number of protesters before my eyes. The situation was unthinkable, bullets were flying everywhere, people were dying under the wheels of military vehicles that were supposed to protect them, women were screaming and death was swirling about.

On the streets surrounding Maspero, groups of thugs were deployed after national television broadcast false news saying that Christians assaulted the army. They were assaulting Christians, even those who didn’t participate in the demonstration.   

General Hamdy Badeen, the military police’s former commander and SCAF member, was involved in a series of crimes during that period, and Maspero was one of his most bloody. I remember seeing him among the military police, while they were shooting and running over protesters. Military police killed at least 23 peaceful Coptic protesters that day.

Badeen was the field commander and military police chief who led his troops to kill civilians, and he has never been held accountable for this crime. The national TV broadcast false news and inflammatory speech against Christians, which led to a disaster in the streets, and no one was subjected to an investigation. SCAF members were involved in many crimes following the January 25 uprising, but none of them was even questioned about what happened. Some of them are still in service; others ran for presidential elections.

Authorities have opened three civilian investigations regarding Maspero, and Copts were among the defendants in all three cases. In two of these cases, which in the end were closed, Copts faced accusations of incitement to commit crimes and assaulting army personnel. Another investigation led to the conviction of two young Copts for stealing military weapons, and were handed down three-year prison terms.

A military investigation led to the conviction of three soldiers with involuntary manslaughter, and the military court sentenced them to between two and three years in prison.

Since 2011, Coptic lawyers and activists have lodged dozens of complaints to the prosecutor general against Hamdy as well as other SCAF figures, accusing them of the deliberate murder of at least 23 people. They also lodged complaints against Rasha Magdy, a broadcaster on national television who incited against protesters on October 9, 2011. Magdy’s testimony was heard and the complaints raised against her denied.

 On every anniversary Coptic movements, NGOs, activists and victims’ families call for opening a new investigation into the Maspero massacre, but always in vain. On October 9, 2011, the Egyptian army committed a mass crime against a large number of people peacefully calling for the freedom of religion. It is our responsibility to fight for the freedom of religion and belief and the right to freely build churches. It is our duty to continue demanding an official recognition of this bloody massacre and fair trials for those who are responsible for killing innocent civilians.

Mina Thabet 

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