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Local Police Raid a Church Trying to Obtain Permission to Open Since 2016

06/19/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that police broke into a church-owned building in Egypt’s Saft Al-Kharsa village on June 16, 2017. Coptic Christians have been using the three-story building as a church and community service center. After police raided the building, they closed down the building with chains. Not only have Christians struggled to build churches in this area for several years, but village Christians have begun traveling to other places of worship. Unfortunately, traveling has proven dangerous as well. Some of the Coptic Christians killed in the May bus attack in Egypt were from this village and were traveling to worship as the government and their Muslim neighbors have made it difficult to build a church at home.

One Christian villager described to ICC the most recent police raid on the dual-purpose building, “During the early hours of Friday 16 June, we [Christians] were surprised to find the furniture, rugs, icons, pictures, and worship utensils…had been thrown outside and the building closed down with seals and chains. We took the belongings into our homes. We don’t know why the police did that.

Village Christians have been trying to turn this building into a church since 2016. On July 22, 2016 Muslims attacked the homes of four Christians in the village after learning that Christians were trying to convert the building into a church.

The next day, Copts and Muslims met for a reconciliation session and, although the attacks were deemed unfair, no damages were awarded to the families whose homes were attacked. In addition, participants determined that the building could be used as a residence, but not converted into a church until all official permits had been obtained.

When Christians pursued such permits, the security authorities of Biba were vague about the possibility of obtaining the permits. In November 2016, the Bishopric of Biba filed a request with the Beni Sweif governor to legalize the building’s status as a church in accordance with a recently passed law for church buildings; however, the governor has yet to reply.

In the midst of waiting, Christians used the building for worship services until the June 16 attack by police. “We were livid at the recent police raid against the building. The behavior by the police was inexplicable,” contended the church’s priest to ICC. “I demanded of the Interior Minister [launch] an urgent investigation into the incident.

On June 17, 2017, 50 clerics met with the governor for two hours and outlined all of the grievances of the Coptic Christians in the parish. Specifically, the clerics demanded adequate church buildings for Coptic Christians to meet. They detailed the oppression and indignity Christians were subjected to daily from security officials as they pursued areas to worship. Some clerics demanded that the Saft Al-Kharsa building be licensed as a community center where worship may be held.

The governor told the clerics that he heard the building was dilapidated and life-threatening, and thus had issued a demolition order. Clerics reminded the governor that this building was not life-threatening and that they had been trying to gain legalization in accordance with the law since 2016.

The meeting ended with Governor Habib ordering the immediate reopening of the Saft Al-Kharsa building as a community center, but that no worship services could be held until the Prime Minister granted a permit. He said that he would urgently address the PM in this regard and promised a reply within 48 hours.

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “This series of persecution is an excellent example of how legal persecution through the withholding of a building permit can lead to more violent and deadly attacks. Because these villagers had no place to legally worship, they joined a bus caravan to a monastery and some were killed when ISIS attacked their caravan. Christians have the right to worship in churches and the government needs to remain fair in authorizing such permits.”