By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
CAIRO (Worthy News) – Nine Egyptian Christians are detained on “terrorism” charges after peacefully protesting against the refusal of Egyptian authorities to allow the rebuilding of a church, an advocacy group says.
Barnabas Fund, which closely follows the case, told Worthy News that the Christians expressed concern about a church building in Ezbet Faragallah village.
The church in the village, located in the Minya governorate of Upper Egypt region, was damaged by fire in 2016 and subsequently demolished in July 2021.
“On 30 January, security forces arrested the nine Christians” after they and other Christian villagers protested on January 22 against the authorities’ refusal to permit a new church, Barnabas Fund confirmed.
The nine were named as Abanoub Magdy Semaan, Gerges Samir Gerges, Jaid Saad Zekry, Milad Mahrous Tawfiq, Milad Reda Tawfiq Ayyad, Mina Salib Hosni, Mounir Samir Mounir, Raymond Mamdouh William and Shenouda Salib Hosni.
Muslim-majority Egypt has granted licenses to 2,162 churches out of 3,730 that applied after the repeal of Ottoman-era restrictions in 2016, according to Christian estimates.
However, “the church in Ezbet Faragullah has not yet been permitted to reconstruct their building,” prompting the protest, Barnabas Fund explained. The advocacy group expressed concern about the prison circumstances under which the nine believers have been held.
“After being arrested, they were taken to the headquarters of the National Security Agency in Minya governorate. They were reportedly interrogated while handcuffed and blindfolded, without the presence of a lawyer. Their families were not informed of their whereabouts,” Barnabas Fund added.
Barnabas investigators said the nine were taken in early February into custody by the feared Supreme State Security Prosecution. “They remain in pre-trial detention and are set to face charges of terrorism and to participate in an assembly that endangers public peace. Mounir Samir Mounir additionally faces a charge of ‘arranging a gathering that affects public authority.’
Barnabas Fund said it urged believers to “pray for the release of the nine Christians, and that they will not have to face criminal charges for engaging in peaceful protest.”
That also urged prayers “that the church will be rebuilt, giving the Christians of Ezbet Faragallah a place to meet for worship. Pray that Egypt’s commitment to religious freedom will be practiced consistently.”
It was not immediately clear why local authorities refused to allow the church building, which was reportedly the only place of worship for around 800 Christians in Ezbet Faragallah.
“It was almost completely destroyed in the 2016 fire, which occurred in unconfirmed circumstances. The church – which had been granted legal status in 2011 – successfully applied for a demolition permit in 2021, which was implemented in July of that year,” Barnabas Fund recalled.
The church then applied to the Minya governorate for permission to reconstruct their building, but that permission has yet to be granted.
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