A court in Egypt has recently handed one-year suspended jail sentences to 19 Muslims who attacked an unregistered Coptic church in Giza in December. A fine amounting to around $20,000 was also given to a Christian for establishing the said church.
On Wednesday, Jan. 31, the Atfih misdemeanor court gave the 19 Muslim defendants suspended sentences for the church attack, which means they only have to serve jail time if they run into trouble with the law once again. The were sentenced for destroying the things found inside a Coptic Christian church outside of Cairo and assaulting its worshippers during a protest held outside, The Associated Press detailed.
According to the Coptic diocese, it had applied for a legal permit for the church building but local authorities often withhold such requests for fear of reprisal from Muslim conservatives. Because of these situations, Christians sometimes resort to illegal construction of churches or gathering congregations in other buildings. Muslims, on the other hand, encounter few restrictions when seeking a permit to put up a mosque.
Some extremist groups have used the situation of Christian churches as a reason to attack them. In a bid to stem sectarian violence, the Ministry of Housing has recently allowed unregistered churches to stay open while their official permits are being processed, Al Monitor reported.
In a statement, the ministry said the decision aims to make it easier for Christians to process legal permits for their churches. It also aims to uphold their constitutional rights.
At present, there are more than 250 churches across Egypt that have been closed, and a number of them were shuttered for security reasons. Church officials have already requested to allow the houses of worship to be reopened.
Former parliament member Assad Gamal, who is also a Christian, welcomed the decision, saying the government appears to be starting to pay attention to the situation of the believers. However, he told Al Monitor that the environment in Egypt must also change into a more tolerant one so that the sectarian violence in the nation would significantly decrease.