By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service email@example.com
UPPER EGYPT (ANS, July 4, 2015) — Prosecutors in Upper Egypt have dropped all charges against a Muslim who, according to numerous eyewitnesses, gunned down a Christian with the aim of intimidating his family into withdrawing charges in another religiously motivated killing. Like others accused of violence against copts, the suspect was declared insane.
According to an article for Morning Star News http://morningstarnews.org by their Middle East Correspondent, prosecuting attorneys on June 24 found that the accused in the January shooting, Hasan Baghdadi, was incompetent to stand trial by reason of insanity and closed the case before it could be presented to a judge, according to human rights activists. Additionally, the investigation into Baghdadi’s brother, Mohammed, who was also allegedly involved in the incident, was dropped.
Morning Star News reports that sometime after the case was withdrawn, Baghdadi was sent to a psychiatric facility where he remained Wednesday (July 1), according to human rights activists.
Morning Star News reported that Safwat Samaan, director of human rights group Nation Without Borders, said he doubts the validity of the incompetency finding. The news outIet explained that it is a common legal tactic in Egypt for Muslims who have killed Copts or committed other acts of violence against members of the Orthodox Christian minority to use the insanity defense to avoid trial or any kind of punishment, he said.
This “devil made me do it” legal strategy, often conducted with the complicity of the government, is a common fixture throughout the Middle East where religious minorities are often victimized by the majority, Samaan said.
“It is not the first time that a Muslim in Egypt who has attacked a Christian or a church has claimed to be mentally ill, and there seems to be an epidemic of cases in other countries as well, so it seems like ‘the devil’ is leading these people to do such things,” Samaan said.
He added that such abuse of the insanity defense has denied the victims in the January killing their right to justice.
“There is no justice in this case, and the police did not do their job by looking into all the facts and evidence,” he said.
Morning Star News said the dismissal of the charges was a double blow to a Christian family that has lost two men to religiously motivated violence in two years.
“We feel like anytime someone kills a Christian, they will claim that he’s got a certificate that he is mentally ill and get away with it,” said a relative, Romany William. “It is like we live in a jungle.”
According to the Morning Star News report, Shaheed Nesemis Saroufeem, 38, was shot on Jan. 13 in Al Dabaya village in Luxor Province. At the time, Saroufeem was driving a motor scooter back from a trip to a flourmill, where he had ground flour to make bread for his family. Witnesses said that the Baghdadi brothers followed Saroufeem from the back of their motorcycle through Al Dabaya, eventually spraying Saroufeem with machine-gun fire and driving off. Saroufeem was hit nine times, fell to the ground and died at the scene.
The news agency said Saroufeem’s death came after months of death threats against the Saroufeem family by Islamists and family members of a group of men accused of killing four Copts during political and religiously motivated riots of 2013.
The agency stated that on July 5, 2013, during the nationwide upheaval that led to the ouster of then-President Mohamed Morsi, a mob of Islamists attacked and killed Saroufeem’s cousin, Emil Naseem Saroufeem, 42, and three other Copts – Rasem Tawadrous Aqladios, 56, Mouhareb Noushy Habib, 38, and Romany Noushy, 33. For reasons that remain unknown, the group blamed Saroufeem for the death of a Muslim whose body had been found earlier that day.
The agency said that a mob formed and began beating Saroufeem, who escaped briefly when two relatives, Habib and Noushy, hid him, according to Samaan. The rabble caught up with the three Christians in Aqladios’s apartment, and Saroufeem and Aqladios were bludgeoned to death. The group then allegedly beat and repeatedly stabbed Habib and Noushy and left them for dead.
The news agency report said that after the killings, a mass riot started and the Muslims began beating Copts in Al Dabaya, then looted and burned down many of the Christian’s homes and businesses in the village. In all, three other Copts were seriously wounded and roughly 40 homes were destroyed. The Copts fled Al Dabaya, and for weeks most refused to return to their homes.
Eventually authorities rounded up about 16 Muslims and charged them with various crimes related to the killings and the destruction of the village, the news agency said.
It added that Saroufeem was shot to death a day after a hearing in the trial of Baghdadi’s relatives for the 2013 murders.
According to the Morning Star News report, a family member said Saroufeem had been receiving death threats since October 2014, when hearings in the court case against the 16 men began. Relatives of the deceased said the families of those charged put extreme pressure on them to drop the charges or enter into a “reconciliation” meeting, but they refused.
The news report stated that as the months passed, the threats increased in intensity and number, but Saroufeem did not take them seriously, relatives said. Despite the January killing and the insanity ruling, the Saroufeem family said they will not back down. It is not known if a new hearing date has been set.
Saroufeem and his family weren’t the only ones receiving threats before the shooting happened, the agency said. According to Samaan, one of the priests at the Church of St. John in Al Edisat received threats from the Muslim family through a messenger that Saroufeem was going to be killed weeks before the shooting occurred. Those threats cast into doubt any claim that Baghdadi was not criminally responsible for his actions, but rather that the shooting was premeditated, Samaan said.
Through the messenger, the Muslim family also allegedly threatened the priest, who at the time was encouraging families affected in the 2013 killings not to enter into reconciliation meetings. After the shooting, the priest, whose name has been withheld for his safety, was transferred to another parish outside the province.
The Morning Star News outlet explained that the Luxor parish is now encouraging families to participate in “reconciliation” meetings, which usually result in little or no punishment for Muslims accused of crimes against Christians in Egypt. Based on traditional tribal councils where remedies to various disputes can be determined, reconciliation meetings aren’t meant to replace the criminal justice system, according to Egyptian law, but they often do.
The agency further explained that once a reconciliation process starts, it is almost certain that any criminal charges against an accused person will be dropped. In a study of reconciliation sessions conducted by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights released in June, EIPR found that the Muslim majority uses the extrajudicial meetings to escape punishment for attacking Christians and other minority groups.
“Customary sessions have been used to evade the implementation of the law, giving those with a stronger tribal or clan presence more power to impose their own terms,” the study stated. “Such terms, in some instances, have explicitly amounted to punishing citizens for exercising their constitutional and legal rights to resort to the law in the pursuit of justice.”
Some officials in the justice system have also participated in injustice by not heeding the rule of law and by accepting customary rulings without considering the seriousness of the offenses committed, according to the study, the news agency reported.
“These offenses have included murder, arson and the looting of public and private property, as well as places of worship, in addition to owning firearms and other acts that are illegal according to the Egyptian penal code,” the study stated.
Photo One: Morning Star News banner
Photo Two: Michael Ireland
Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_ASSIST/1410485204 to see a daily digest of Michael’s stories for ANS.
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