- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

To be a Coptic Christian in parts of Egypt can make a man a candidate for torture and imprisonment no matter how dubious the evidence.

Consider the case of Shayboub William Arthur. Following a double murder in August 1998, Egyptian police rounded up some 1,014 villagers, most of them Coptic Christians, from the town of al-Kosheh in Upper Egypt, including Mr. Arthur, as part of their "investigation." Some were merely interrogated and released. But hundreds of others were interrogated and then tortured when police officials didn't care for their answers. For 34 days, they brutalized Mr. Arthur by hanging him from a window by his arms and legs in an effort to get him to testify against another suspect in the slayings. (When prosecutors examined Mr. Arthur Sept. 16 of that year, they found 12 documentable injuries to him, including marks on his wrist and feet from hanging as well as evidence the police applied electric shocks to his face, chest and back.)

When Mr. Arthur declined to cooperate in this star chamber proceeding, police decided to charge him with the slayings. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and hard labor. His lawyer plans to appeal the decision. "This decision indicts the government because it proves that what the West has been saying is true that there is no religious freedom in Egypt," Mamdouh Nakhla, Mr. Arthur's lawyer, said in an interview from Cairo. The defense has yet to receive the court's explanation for its ruling.

There is, however, a wealth of evidence to suggest Mr. Arthur's innocence. For example, the night of the double murder, Mr. Arthur was with the mother of one of the victims and the father of the other. (That's not so surprising since one of the victims was Mr. Arthur's cousin.) Both parents testify to this. Meanwhile a Muslim murder suspect in the case, whose families happen to have a history of bad relations with the victims' families, got off far more leniently. Taken into custody for questioning following the murders, he was only held for two hours at the police station, then released. Police noted that he was a valuable police informant.

The government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak owes Coptic Christians and the nation some explanation for what has happened in this case. Otherwise, Coptic Christians and the Western world may continue to believe that the Copts are the victims of Egypt's gross injustice and religious intolerance. To judge from this case, their concerns are not unfounded.

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