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Church Building Regulations Continue to Be Used to Persecute Egypt’s Christians

08/23/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on Sunday, August 20, police in Ezbat Al-Forn, located in Egypt’s Minya governorate, prevented local Christians from accessing a building they were using to hold Sunday worship. Father Botros Azeez, the priest who travels to Ezbat Al-Forn on a weekly basis to officiate Sunday worship, was also kept off the church premises by security forces who cordoned off the area.

On Sunday morning, at 6:00 a.m., we were surprised when we found that security forces were cordoning the area and surrounding our church and prevented us from entering it,” Karam Fawzy, a Christian resident of Ezbat Al-Forn, told ICC. “When we stood in the street chanting, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ (Lord have mercy), the police dispersed us by force and arrested some of us. They also prevented Father Botros Azeez, our church’s priest, from entering the village.

The building, used as a de facto church, is a small house owned by the Bishopric of Minya. It is located within a Christian-majority neighborhood in Ezbat Al-Forn, where approximately 400 Coptic families reside, and has been used for worship for more than four years.

The security officials claimed that the Christians were refused access to the church because they had no permit to practice religious rites in the house. Police officials, represented by Brigadier General Mohamed Salah, filed a report to that effect, citing complaints reported against the Christians by local Muslims in Ezbat Al-Forn.

The Abu Qurqas Diocese, the diocese in charge of the Ezbat Al-Forn area, issued a statement saying that the house in question was in fact a church that had been used for worship for years under the watch of local police who never reported it as a violation of the law. The statement went on to say that Ezbat Al-Forn’s Muslim community had also never objected to the operation of the church because of its location among Coptic homes. The statement concluded by claiming that Egyptian law includes no stipulation that leading worship requires any permit.

Last week, Bishop Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya and Abu-Qurqas, issued a statement in which he protested against local security authorities who refuse to reopen churches that have been closed for years ‘due to security concerns.’ In his statement, he pointed out that the Minya parish alone includes 15 such churches and 70 other villages where there are no churches at all.

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “The forced closure of the church in Ezbat Al-Forn is another example of how authorities use Egypt’s church building laws and regulations to persecute the country’s Christian community. The fact that Christians were prevented from using a building they had openly used for worship for years only a week after church leadership complained about the closure of churches clearly shows the arbitrary and punitive way in which authorities apply the church building laws and regulations. Clear reforms must be made to Egypt’s church building laws and regulations if Christians are to truly be able to exercise their religious freedom rights. Until then, local authorities will continue to use these vague laws and regulations to close churches and prevent worship whenever and wherever they please.”