By Worthy News Middle East Service with reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (Worthy News)-- Scores of Coptic Christian children are recovering from injuries and nearly two dozen minors remain detained after Egyptian security forces opened fire on unarmed Copts protesting against the authorities' decision to halt the construction of a church, rights investigators said Thursday, December 9.
Advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) quoted activist Mona Farous as saying that 38 children have been treated in hospital, and the group added that at least 20 others remain behind bars following the November 24 skirmishes in a poor suburb of the capital Cairo.
The children are among over 150 Copts arrested following the protests, in which four Copts were reportedly killed, including three young men and a four-year-old child who apparently suffocated from tear gas.
Egypt's official news agency MENA said earlier that the attorney general decided to hold 156 protesters for 15 days "on suspicion of inciting the riots." ICC said as many as 168 have meanwhile been detained.
Fighting between security forces and up to 3,000 Copts broke out when Egyptian police cordoned off St. Mary’s Church in Giza, near Egypt's pyramids, according to witnesses and rights investigators.
"Security forces fired on the unarmed protesters with live ammunition and rubber bullets. Both Copts and security forces threw stones at each other," added ICC.
Giza Governor Sayyed Abdel-Aziz told reporters however that the Christians misused a permit for a social center to build a church.
Christians said they had the right documents and would continue to build the three-floors domed structure despite alleged Muslim opposition.
It was the latest in a series of incidents in Egypt where Coptic Christians frequently complain about unfair treatment and under-representation in the majority Muslim country. Copt is a word derived from the Greek name Aigyptos, which means Egypt. Coptic Christians are believed to be among the largest and oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, comprising about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million people.
However, "Anti-Christian persecution in Egypt is reaching a new level, as Copts are no longer merely discriminated against, but are in fact being targeted and murdered by the government," said ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay. "We urge President Hosni Mubarak to take immediate action by bringing those who authorized this attack to justice and by releasing those who have been arrested unjustly, especially the children," Clay told Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife.
On Saturday, December 4, rights activists, Christians and Muslims demonstrated in front of Egypt’s High Court to demand the release of the detained minors. They also demanded the resignation and prosecution of key officials, including Giza's governor and the chief of state security in Giza, who they accused of authorizing the use of live ammunition against the protesters. There was no immediate official response to these allegations.
Yet, "If action is not taken, it will be clear to all that Mubarak’s regime and Egyptian courts condone, and even support, government induced violence upon Christians,” Clay added. The government has said however it wants to combat religious extremism in the country.