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Sharp questions have flared up concerning the independence of the Egyptian judicial system. The Criminal Court of Sohag sentenced only two of 95 defendants on February 27 in a retrial for the deaths of 21 Christians in and around the village of al-Kosheh, 300 miles south of Cairo, in late 1999 and early 2000. The 95 defendants also were charged with destroying 65 homes, kiosks, and shops.

One Muslim defendant was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and another to three and a half years for murder and assault. The killings took place on the third day of mob violence that started with a trade dispute between a Christian and a Muslim. The atmosphere was already volatile following Christian accusations of police bias in investigating the murder of two Christians in 1998. Al-Kosheh is 65 percent Christian.

After the initial destruction, angry Muslims solicited help from Muslims in neighboring villages. An estimated 5,000 people took part in days of riots that followed. On January 2, 2000, rioters killed 21 people. Some were brutally murdered in their homes or in the fields.

After the rioting ended, local Muslims and Christians were quick to hurl accusations at each other for responsibility in the carnage that made international news and dominated the news in Egypt for months.

Police, court bias alleged


Christians and others widely accused the police being conspicuously absent during the first two days of the conflict. According to the American Egypt Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the government never investigated alleged misconduct of police.

On February 5, 2001, the Criminal Court of Sohag sentenced only four of the defendants—not for murder, but for carrying weapons and participating in the riots. Christians were shocked ...

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