Egypt’s Public Prosecutor announced earlier today that he is currently considering the possibility of appealing a controversial ruling to acquit three men accused of assaulting a Coptic Christian woman and parading her naked in a 2016 hate crime in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya.
This comes following social media outrage after the Minya Criminal Court ruled yesterday to acquit the defendants—Nazeer, his brother Abdul Moneim, and their father Ishaq—who were allegedly involved in the brutal attack against then 66-year-old Soad Thabet.
The three had previously been sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia and ordered to pay EGP 100,000 in damages in relation to the same case, according to local news outlets. It is unclear, however, whether either of these penalties were enforced.
News of the suspects’ acquittal has also stirred controversy on social media. The verdict has angered many in the Coptic Christian community, as well as human rights and feminist groups, with many speculating on whether the victim and her family were pressured or dissuaded by the leaders of the local community.
Controversy also surrounded the state’s complicity in instituting sectarianism, while others defended the verdict. Activist Mina Thabet claims that the Public Prosecution had initially refused to refer the victim’s case to trial and that the head of Egypt’s lawyers’ syndicate had to make a formal request before the Court of Appeals.
Yesterday, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) called on the Public Prosecution to contest the ruling before Egypt’s Court of Cassation, saying that a not guilty verdict “cements the absence of justice and religious discrimination among citizens” and could lead to more sectarian attacks, adding that the incident also represents gender-based violence and violence against women.
Maya Morsy, the head of Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW), also weighed in, saying her agency would be providing the necessary legal support to the victim.
The incident took place in May 2016 in the village of Al Karm, when the victim was dragged out of her home, assaulted and paraded by a group of Muslim villagers in a sectarian attack. According to local media, the mob orchestrated the attack following rumors of an interfaith romance between the victim’s son and a Muslim woman.
The angry mobs also reportedly burned down the homes of Christian residents. According to the EIPR, the Minya Criminal Court has yet to issue a ruling in the appeal case involving the destruction of Christian-owned homes for which 24 people have been indicted.
Additionally, in 2018, a misdemeanor court sentenced the victim’s son, Attiya Daniel, to two years in prison for committing adultery, but his sentence was reduced to one year on appeal. The Muslim woman he was allegedly involved with was sentenced in absentia.
The attack sparked public outrage at the time, with many community leaders and public figures, including President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, calling for justice for Thabet.