71 receive life sentences for torching Egyptian church

El-Sayed Gamal El-Din , Wednesday 29 Apr 2015

Kafr Hakim church in the working class district of Kerdasa was attacked by Morsi supporters on 14 August 2013

Pro Morsi protesters stormed and set ablaze the Archangel Michael church in Kerdasa district, Giza, on Aug. 14, 2013 (Photo: AP)

An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced 71 people to life in prison over the torching of a church in Giza, shortly after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

A life sentence means 25 years in jail, according to the penal code.  

Two more received ten-year jail terms in highly secured facilities in the latest in a series of mass sentences passed over the past year and a half.

The defendants can still appeal against the verdict. They faced multiple charges, which included fomenting chaos, torching the church and preventing local residents from putting out the fire.

They were also charged with possessing bladed weapons and ammunition, as well as blocking roads, resisting authorities and belonging to an illegal group.

The five-floor Kafr Hakim church in the working class district of Kerdasa was subject to the arson attack on 14 August 2013. A number of halls and facilities in the building were damaged.

The attack was concurrent with another one on a police station in the same area, which resulted in the murder of 11 policemen.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and their supporters were widely blamed for both attacks, and other sectarian violence and clashes with security personnel.

The Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have repeatedly denied using violence, saying they have been and always will be peaceful in their quest to reverse what they describe as the "coup" of 3 July, 2013

Nonetheless, video and testimonial evidence showed some Morsi supporters have used firearms, especially in battles with the police.

Also, there were enthusiastic roars at Cairo’s Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins among Morsi supporters in support of inflammatory, sectarian rhetoric that often incited violence against Copts and churches.

Both protest camps were forcibly dispersed in August 2013, resulting in hundreds of deaths, mostly on the Islamist side.

An ensuing crackdown on Islamists saw thousands arrested and sentenced over different criminal charges.

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