Worthy News Middle East Service with Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (Worthy News) -- Six Christian brothers who refused to close their cafe during the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, were behind bars in Egypt Saturday, February 21, after they were sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor, a rights group confirmed.
United Copts of Great Britain, which represents Coptic Christians, said Ashraf Morris Ghatas, Magdy Morris Ghatas, Osama Morris Ghatas, Nabil Morris Ghatas, Walid Morris Ghatas and Hany Morris Ghatas were detained January 22 on charges of "resisting arrest" and "assaulting" authorities."
However the group said they only resisted an "unprovoked" police raid last September in Port Sa’id, a city in Egypt’s Nile delta, "motivated by religious zeal on the side of the Muslim members" of the Egyptian police force.
Video footage seen by Worthy News shows about a dozen police raiding the cafe and apparently attacking people. Soon after broken tables and chairs can be seen.
Police also smashed glasses and hookah pipes, and beat the brothers with sticks, leaving two with broken arms and a third needing 11 stitches for a head wound, said to the Coptic Christians’ lawyer Ramses el-Nagar in published remarks.
"During the trial, the video tape of the attack was shown in court by the defense attorney but, obviously, the judges belong to the same category of the prejudiced police," added United Copts of Great Britain.
"This is just another evidence that the Egyptian authorities, not just the barbaric mobs, practice discrimination against the Copts." The group said the case underscores "systematic persecution" in Egypt and that Muslim "radicals have infiltrated the government agencies including police and judiciary."
However Egyptian officials have said the Christian can appeal the sentence within 30 days. The deadline was believed to be Sunday, February 22.
Before the latest sentence, the Christian brothers already spent one month in jail following their September 8 arrest. At that time, they were released on bail, set at 12,000 Egyptian pounds, nearly $2,200.
However this time Judge Mohammed Hassan El-Mahmody made clear they would remain behind bars, unless his ruling is overturned. "They were taken immediately to start serving their [three year] sentences," United Copts of Britain said.
Rights groups still hope that the sentence will eventually be overturned, saying there are no clear laws banning business during Ramadan. There have also been signs Egypt's government has come under American pressure to improve its perceived poor human rights record.
Last week an Egyptian political dissident whose imprisonment had strained relations between Cairo and Washington for more than three years was unexpectedly freed, in an apparent goodwill gesture toward the new Obama administration.
Ayman Nour, who ran against President Hosni Mubarak in 2005 and was later jailed on widely criticized forgery charges, was driven home from Cairo's Tora Prison. "Why they did this is unknown," Nour told reporters. "I am coming out with an open heart and am ready to work and nothing has changed. A lot of things have been put on hold over the past years."
Nour's release came amid talk that U.S. secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is likely to visit Egypt for a donor's conference on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Nour had reached out to Obama during the U.S. presidential campaign. In August, he reportedly wrote President Barack Obama from prison, asking that Washington push for a Middle East that "embodies the dreams of Arab reformers for democracy and change."
Egypt receives nearly $2 billion annually in U.S. military and economic aid, according to estimates.