96 Egyptians Go on Trial Again for Massacre of Copts

15 of the Accused Fail to Show Up in Court

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SOHAG, Egypt, NOV. 5, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A new trial has opened for 96 Egyptians accused in the January 2000 massacre of 20 Christians in the village of el-Kosheh.



Lofti Salmane, president of the criminal court in Sohag, decided shortly after the opening of the trial Saturday to postpone the hearings to allow for an in-depth examination of the dossier and to round up the accused who failed to appear. He said the date of the next hearing will be announced later.

Fifteen of the 96 accused failed to appear in court.

At the start of the hearing, the defense requested time to study the dossier of more than 7,000 pages, while the detained pleaded "not guilty" and were released on bail.

On July 30, the court of review ordered that the 96 people -- 58 Muslims and 38 Egyptian Coptic Christians -- should be re-tried before another chamber of the criminal court of Sohag.

Initially, in February 2001, this court was satisfied with sentences that ranged from one to 12 years in prison or forced labor for four of the accused of the massacre, in which 20 Christians and one Muslim died.

Two were found guilty of involuntary homicide and two were convicted of vandalism and possession of illegal weapons. The other 92 defendants were acquitted.

A dispute between a Coptic shopkeeper and a Muslim triggered the disturbances that broke out in el-Kosheh on Dec. 31, 1999.

According to official data, the Copts account for 5 million of Egypt´s 69 million inhabitants. The Coptic Church, however, claims 10 million followers.