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An appeals court in June upheld the acquittal of 92 villagers charged with the murder of 21 Christians and one Muslim in the southern Egyptian village of al-Kosheh on January 2, 2000 (CT, May 2003, p. 28). Egyptian Christians responded with great disappointment. Coptic Orthodox Bishop Marcos investigated the tragedy on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Marcos said, "We are all certain these people did not commit suicide, but were brutally killed."

Egyptian observers blamed the police, not the courts, saying that judges can only rule based on evidence presented in court. "We know from our investigation that police officers told the population of al-Kosheh to change their witness," Marcos said. "A victim wounded by a bullet says he saw who killed eight Christians. The police later stated that this person was not in the area when the eight Christians were killed."

Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of the Watani newspaper, agreed with Marcos. Sidhom said the belief that court rulings were based on falsified statements is widespread among Coptic Christians and human-rights activists in Egypt.

Sidhom believes al-Kosheh police have become party to a local conflict. In August 1998, two Christians died during an altercation over gambling. The local police responded by using torture while interrogating many Christians. A representative of the Ministry of Interior went to al-Kosheh to stop the harsh investigative methods.

Western activists then published several articles alleging persecution of Christians in Egypt. When the Egyptian press objected, police interrogated al-Kosheh's Christian leaders and arrested the secretary general of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, which reported the police abuse.

In this volatile atmosphere, ...

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